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Noah Purifoy 

Interviewed by Karen Anne Mason 

Completed under the auspices 

of the 

Oral History Program 

University of California 

Los Angeles 

Copyright © 1992 
The Regents of the University of California 


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This manuscript is hereby made available for research 
purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, 
including the right to publication, are reserved to 
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Los Angeles. No part of the manuscript may be quoted 
for publication without the written permission of the 
University Librarian of the University of California, 
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Photograph of Noah Purifoy by Katherine P. Smith; 
courtesy of Katherine P. Smith. 


Biographical Summary vi 

Interview History viii 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side One (September 8, 1990) 1 

Family background- -Absence of art in early life-- 
Education--Childhood interests--Military service-- 
Goes into social work. 

TAPE NUMBER: I, Side Two (September 8, 1990) 19 

Interest in psychology and existentialism- - Six 
Birds --Discovering the interrelation of mind and 
body- -Attitude toward religion--Father Divine. 

TAPE NUMBER: II, Side One (September 8, 1990) 27 

Begins career in social work--Attends Chouinard 
Art Institute- -Working as a window trimmer and 
furniture designer- -Begins working for the Watts 
Towers Arts Center- -Interest in music-- 
Relationships with women- -Becomes a "Sunday 
painter" --Edward Kienholz. 

TAPE NUMBER: II, Side Two (September 8, 1990) 46 

More on Kienholz--Confronting contradictions of 
his philosophy-- Niggers Ain't Never Ever Gonna Be 
Nothin'--All They Want To Do Is Drink + Fuck . 

TAPE NUMBER: III, Side One (September 9, 1990) 55 

Gives up window trimming to work on his art-- 
Assemblages--Developing programs at the Watts 
Towers Arts Center--The Watts riots--Leaves the 
Watts Towers Arts Center. 

TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side One (September 22, 1990) 71 

"Arts and the Poor" conference in Gaithersburg, 
Maryland--Bringing artists together for "66 Signs 
of Neon" --Using found objects--Individual pieces 
in "66 Signs of Neon" --Self ishness versus 
cooperation . 


TAPE NUMBER: IV, Side Two (September 22, 1990) 90 

Exhibiting "66 Signs of Neon" at various 
universities--Intent of "66 Signs" --Teaching at 
University of California, Santa Cruz--The Watts 
Summer Festival--Challenging formalist notions of 
art--Steve Kent and the Improv Theater- -Layering 
pieces to achieve depth. 

TAPE NUMBER: V, Side One (September 22, 1990) 107 

Exploring sexuality--Symbols in his work--More on 
the Watts Summer Festival--Protest art-- 
Impossibility of analyzing art--Working at the 
Central City Community Mental Health Facility. 

TAPE NUMBER: V, Side Two (September 22, 1990) 126 

Programs developed at the California Arts 
Council--Attempt to integrate art and education-- 
Returns to doing his own art. 

TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side One (September 23, 1990) 138 

California Arts Council's problems funding 
minorities- -Community agencies that funded the 
arts in the sixties--The Watts Summer Festival 
and the Watts Towers Music and Arts Festival-- 
Reasons for the art boom of the sixties--Travels 
to Nigeria for the World Black and African 
Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC). 

TAPE NUMBER: VI, Side Two (September 23, 1990) 157 

Homes and studios in Los Angeles--Move to the 
desert- -Recent artworks- -Distinction between art 
he makes to exhibit and art he makes to sell. 

Index 174 



Bom: August 17, 1917, Snow Hill, Alabama. 

Education: B.S., Education, Alabama State Teachers 
College; M.S.W., Social Service Administration, Atlanta 
University; B.F.A., Chouinard Art Institute. 

Military Service: Carpenter's mate first class, 
Seabees, United States Navy, 1942-45. 


Industrial arts instructor, secondary schools, 
Montgomery, Alabama, ca. 1939-42. 

Social worker, Cuyahoga County Department of Social 
Services, Cleveland, Ohio, ca. 1950-52. 

Social worker, Los Angeles County Hospital, ca. 1952-54. 

Director of community services. Central City Community 
Mental Health Facility, Los Angeles, 1973-76. 


Window trimmer, Cannel and Schaffen Interior Designs, 
Los Angeles, mid-1950s. 

Furniture designer, Angelus Furniture Warehouse, mid- 

Window trimmer, Broadway department stores, Los Angeles, 

Interior design, partnership with John Smith, Los 
Angeles, late 1950s. 

Founder /director. Watts Towers Arts Center, Los Angeles, 

Cofounder, Joined for the Arts, 1966. 

Cofounder /organizer. Watts Summer Festival, Los Angeles, 


Creator, "66 Signs of Neon," 1966. 

Instructor, art education and demonstration workshops. 
University of California, Los Angeles; University of 
California, Davis; University of California, Santa Cruz; 
Inunaculate Heart College, Los Angeles; Thatcher Boys 
School, Ojai, California, 1966-73. 

Cofounder, Company Theater, Beverly Hills, 1966. 

Member, California Arts Council; chair, art in education 
subcommittee, 1976-87. 


"The Negro in American Art: One Hundred and Fifty Years 
of Afro-American Art, " University of California, Los 
Angeles, 1966. 

"66 Signs of Neon, " first presented in 1966 at the first 
annual Watts Summer Festival and then toured to nine 
universities and the Gallery of Modern Art, Washington, 

"Microcosm 69," Long Beach Museum, Long Beach, 
California, 1969. 

"12 Afro-American Artists," Nordness Galleries, New 
York, New York, 1969. 

"Niggers Ain't Never Ever Gonna Be Nothin'--All They 
Want To Do Is Drink + Fuck, " Brockman Gallery, Los 
Angeles, 1969. 

"Benny, Bernie, Betye, Noah, and John, " Scripps College, 

"Black American Artists/71," Chicago Bell Galleries, 
Chicago, Illinois, 1971. 

"Contemporary Black Artists of America, " Whitney Museum 
of American Art, New York, New York, 1971. 

"Contemporary Black Imagery: 7 Artists, " Brockman 
Gallery, Los Angeles, 1971. 

"The Metal Experience," Oakland Art Museum, Oakland, 
California, 1971. 


"Garbage Needs Recycle Exhibit, " United States Office of 
Information, Berlin, 1972. 

"Los Angeles 1972: A Panorama of Black Artists," Los 
Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1972. 

"Negro Art, " La Jolla Museum, San Diego, California, 

"Black Artists in California," Governor's office, 
Sacramento, California, 1975. 

"19 Sixties: A Cultural Awakening Re-evaluated 1965-75," 
California Afro-American Museum, Los Angeles, 1989. 

"Noah Purifoy: A New Place to Be, " Museum of African 
American Art, Los Angeles, 1989. 


Junk magazine. Los Angeles: Joined for the Arts, 1967. 

Contemporary Black Philosophy . Pasadena, California: 
Williams and Williams Company, 1971. 




Karen Anne Mason, B.A., English, Simmons College; M.A., 
Art History, University of California, Los Angeles. 


Place: Purifoy's home, Joshua Tree, California. 

Dates, length of sessions: September 8, 1990 (113 
minutes); September 9, 1990 (44); September 22, 1990 
(150); September 23, 1990 (74). 

Total number of recorded hours: 6.35 

Persons present during interview: Purifoy and Mason. 


This interview is one of a series on African-American 
art and artists in Los Angeles. This oral history 
project gathers and preserves interviews with African- 
American artists who have created significant works and 
others in the Los Angeles metropolitan area who have 
worked to expand exhibition opportunities and public 
support for African-American visual culture. 

The interview is organized chronologically, beginning 
with Purifoy's childhood in Alabama and continuing on 
through his activities as an artist in the Los Angeles 
area. Major topics covered include Purifoy's work at 
the Watts Towers Arts Center, the "66 Signs of Neon" 
exhibit, his work with the California Arts Council, the 
role of art in education, his individual works of art, 
and the philosophy of human development that has guided 
his approach to the creative process. 


Steven J. Novak, editor, edited the interview. He 
checked the verbatim transcript of the interview against 
the original tape recordings, edited for punctuation, 
paragraphing, and spelling, and verified proper names. 
Words and phrases inserted by the editor have been 


Purifoy reviewed the transcript. He verified proper 
names and made minor corrections and additions. 

Teresa Barnett, senior editor, prepared the table of 
contents. Rebecca Stone, editorial assistant, prepared 
the biographical summary and interview history. Novak 
compiled the index. 


The original tape recordings of the interview are in the 
university archives and are available under the 
regulations governing the use of permanent noncurrent 
records of the university. Records relating to the 
interview are located in the office of the UCLA Oral 
History Program. 

SEPTEMBER 8, 1990 

MASON: The first question we always ask is, when and where 

were you born? 

PURIFOY: A little town twenty miles from Selma [Alabama] 

called Snow Hill. It was a little town of-- I don't know 

how many people, but not very many. It was a farm town. 

MASON: What year was that? 

PURIFOY: In 1917. 

MASON: Who are your parents? 

PURIFOY: George [Purifoy] and — 

MASON: I have Mims here. 

PURIFOY: Yeah, that was my mother's maiden name. 

MASON: Georgia Mims [Purifoy] . Do you know much about 

each of their families, where your father's family was from 

and your mother's family was from? Anything about that 


PURIFOY: No. Because of the French name Purifoy, I guess 

the family eventually came from Louisiana, probably. But I 

have no recollection of that. Nobody ever told me actually 

where we came from or where my parents were born. I never 

thought to ask. 

MASON: When did your parents pass? 

PURIFOY: My mother died around 1940, and my father died 

around 1943. 

MASON: What was their educational level? 

PURIFOY: They were farmers, sharecroppers, as the case 

was. If I can recollect well, my mother went to the eighth 

grade, but my father had little or no education 

whatsoever. I think my mother taught school in the 

summertime in Selma. That was twenty miles, as I said, 

from where I was born. 

MASON: Do you have any brothers and sisters? 

PURIFOY: Yeah. There were thirteen of us. I only 

remember eight, two brothers and six sisters. Among the 

six sisters there were twins. We were a rather close-knit 

family from the time I can remember. I was looking over 

some old stuff I wrote some time ago, and I started to 

write my life story. I didn't get very far on it, but I 

wondered if you'd be interested in me reading that into the 

machine in our spare-- You know, maybe tonight or sometime. 

MASON: Okay. 

PURIFOY: It's rather lengthy. I would like for you to 

thumb through the material and see if you think it's the 

right quality for what you want. I wasn't sure. 

MASON: Well, it's not just what we want. It's also what 

you want or what you think is important. What you would 

like the world to know about you. 

PURIFOY: It's mostly about me and my relationship in the 

family unit, my early childhood experiences in school and 

my relationship to the community. 

MASON: Well, those are some of the things that we want to 

talk about today. After this first session, we can stop 

and look through it and maybe if there are some other 

things that you want to add we can add that in later. 

[tape recorder off] You were talking about your family, 

and you said that you were a pretty close family. Was 

there any one or another person with whom you were 

particularly close? A brother or sister? Was there any 

extended family living with you, or it was just your 

parents and your brothers and sisters? 

PURIFOY: No, it was just immediate family. I was first 

attached to the twins, but since-- 

KASON: You should give us their names too, as you 

remember . 

PURIFOY: Mary [Purifoy] and Rose [Purifoy] were their 

names. And my youngest sister [Esther Purifoy], who is 

younger than I am--in fact she's the last one of us--I 

became attached to later more than the twins because I felt 

I had to protect her, being male and all, in addition to 

the fact that I had to take her to school for quite a 


MASON: Where did you fall within the order? 

PURIFOY: I was the second to the last one. Actually, I 

was the third to the last one, because I remember my mother 

had one child who died. So I was the third to the last. 
My kid sister was the second to the last, and the one who 
died was the last one of us. That's the line in which the 
eight living sisters and brothers now take place. The 
others I don't quite remember, except my two brothers, 
which makes ten of us, I guess. No, six sisters and myself 
makes seven, and my two brothers makes nine, and the one 
who died makes ten. They are the ones who I remember 
best. And there was probably one other who died at the age 
of eleven or twelve, which I don't recall very clearly. So 
it was ten members of the family that I have recollection 
of , and the other three I do not . 

MASON: What about the community in Snow Hill? What was 
the community like? What were the people like? What kinds 
of things did you do? I'm sure you had a lot of work to do 
around the farm, but also what--? 

PURIFOY: Well, I was under three years old when we moved 
to the city, Birmingham, Alabama. I don't remember too 
much what happened in the country except picking cotton. I 
trailed behind the family as they picked cotton. I got in 
the way for the most part and was often sent home on a 
blind mule and had to wait at the door until somebody came 
to get me off. But I don't have very many recollections of 
what was taking place in the country. 
MASON: As a child, do you remember it as a particularly 

hard life? 

PURIFOY: Well, life was hard, but I had no consciousness 
of that. In reflection, I can sense that we were extremely 
poor, but it wasn't emphasized. It was obvious, but we 
weren't denied the things that the family could afford to 
provide for us. So therefore, and for many other reasons, 
I had little or no knowledge of absolute poverty. I mean, 
that's what we were living in, but I had little or no 
knowledge of that. I recall once we moved to the city and 
being three or four years old-- My mother worked for some 
white folks two or three streets over from where we 
lived. I remember she brought food home from the white 
folks' kitchen. But my father was always working at 
something or other, and he was a fairly good provider. 
MASON: So you moved to the city because your father found 
another job there? Or your mother? Do you remember? 
PURIFOY: Well, I think it was my father and my brother 
[Clarence Purifoy] who came to town first, to the city 
first, and they found work and sent for us. 
MASON: What other memories do you have about the time? 
Because I'm just thinking that around this time the 
Depression struck, in '29, and what was that like for your 
family, which was already fairly poor? And also the fact 
that around the thirties, the mid- thirties, during the WPA 
[Works Progress Administration] , all these artists had to 

get fellowships and things to go South, to places like 
Alabama, because they wanted to study black folk culture or 
whatever. Is there anything that you remember about so- 
called folk culture in the South then or anything that you 
remember that you tend to deal with in your art at all 
today? Nothing really? No quilting bees or Sunday sermons 
or anything like that that black folklorists usually write 

PURIFOY: Well, when you mention church, we were encouraged 
to go to church, but we weren't required to go. 
MASON: What denomination? 

PURIFOY: Baptist. Oh, no, Methodist I think. Methodist, 
yeah. However, my mother prayed constantly in a singsong 
fashion as she went about her work. I was highly 
influenced by that, although it wasn't particularly meant 
for us, for me, or the children. It meant that she was a 
quite religious person. I think she practiced her religion 
more than the average person. That is to say, she was an 
extremely kind, generous, gentle person, in direct contrast 
to my father, who paid little or no attention to the 
management of the family as such. It was my mother who 
managed the family. I experienced a strong female 
influence as a child, both having six sisters, as well as a 
strong mother. So those things influenced me a great deal, 
probably shaped the kind of person I ultimately became. 

That's about all I remember in terms of lasting effect and 

As far as art is concerned and the Depression during 
the thirties, I was not in any way exposed to any art forms 
of any kind. I took to the movies a great deal at the time 
and worked on Saturdays to earn show fare, it was called. 
But that was the extent of my artistic experience, with one 
exception. My mother, I remember, went to the bank and 
drew out her last penny to buy my brother a piano. I was 
about, I don't know, seven or eight years old at the 
time. And he learned to play by rote, I guess. I heard 
some rumors that he was taught by either Ma Rainey or 
someone of that ilk. 
MASON: What's this brother's name? 
PURIFOY: Clarence. 

MASON: Do you know how he got the idea that he wanted to 
play the piano? 

PURIFOY: Well, he was associated in one way with Bessie 
Smith, the blues singer. 
MASON: Okay, they would come through- - 

PURIFOY: I heard that they were in our vicinity. I'm not 
certain about this. These are the names that come to 
mind. Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith were associates of my 
brother, who probably taught him to play piano and the 
blues, as the case was. My mother sensed my brother was 

problematic, in the sense that he drank a lot and he fooled 

around a lot, so to speak. My mother, as a means of 

keeping him home, bought this piano. Of course, when she 

died it was not paid for yet, and it had to go back. This 

I refer to in my notes about my childhood. 

MASON: But music wasn't really, generally-- Well, you said 

your mother's singing influenced you. 

PURIFOY: It wasn't emphasized. It was present but not 

emphasized as an art form. In no way. We weren't astute 

enough to associate music with art. It was just done. My 

twin sisters sang duets in the church and stuff like 

that. But we just did it because it came natural- It 

wasn't construed as any kind of art form or folk music or 

anything of that nature. 

MASON: Were there any craftsmen around? 

PURIFOY: Not to my recollection. In other words, I didn't 

get to the idea of doing art in my childhood. In no way. 

In fact, I didn't get the idea of doing art until I got 

unhappy with my work as a social worker and decided to go 

to Chouinard [Art Institute] . I had given little or no 

thought to it prior to that. 

MASON: We'll talk about that in more detail soon. I have 

that from 1939 to 1945 you were an industrial arts 

instructor in Montgomery, Alabama. 

PURIFOY: Nineteen what? 

MASON: 'Thirty-nine to 'forty-five. 
PURIFOY: Yeah, I changed college in about 1939. 
MASON: Where did you go to college? 

PURIFOY: Alabama State [Teachers] College in Montgomery, 
Alabama. I majored in history and education. But there 
were no jobs available in history or education or the 
academics, for that matter. I had had an extensive 
experience in high school in carpentry and woodwork, so I 
was skilled enough to teach industrial arts. I never had 
any basic training, except in high school. That's the kind 
of job I took in 1939, after I graduated from college. 
MASON: So in high school, the industrial arts-- I guess a 
lot of people were coming in from rural areas. Was that 
something that was emphasized in the high school because 
they thought it was a practical thing to teach to people, 
or was that something that you just personally were drawn 
to because it had some attraction for you? 

PURIFOY: I don't remember. I don't remember any specific 
dialogue having to do with "If you can't do your academics, 
you do the hand training." That was Booker T. Washington's 
philosophy, which I don't know was evident in the high 
school I went to or not. I went to high school in 
Birmingham, and it was a very modern, contemporary high 
school. I always lean towards the extracurricular events 
and experiences, probably because I didn't do well with the 

ABC's. It's likely. So I sang in the choir in high school 

and stuff like that. 

MASON: Did you not like school? 

PURIFOY: I didn't like school very much. No, not very 


MASON: What do you remember not liking about it? 

PURIFOY: I didn't know what it was talking about. It 

didn't relate to me. I mean, it just sounded foreign to 

me. My life experience was not related whatsoever to 

education, what they were talking about, Lincoln and all 

that stuff. My life experience was on the street, you 

know, dealing with everyday habits, everydayness. 

MASON: But then you ended up majoring in history or had a 

minor in history in college. Did you change your mind 

about that or--? 

PURIFOY: About what? 

MASON: About history. You were saying that Lincoln and 

all that didn't relate to you, but then when you were in 

college you ended up having a minor- - 

PURIFOY: Yeah, but that was just the easiest stuff I could 

take. It didn't have anything to do with preference 

whatsoever. I mean, I didn't have-- You know, I did very 

well in college. With the time I had to study, I didn't do 

too badly. It was just in high school and elementary 

school that I didn't do too well in academics because I 


didn't know what they were talking about. But in college-- 
And incidentally, I went because there was nothing else to 
do. I tried to get into the military, but I was rejected 
for one reason or another. That was when I was 
seventeen. After finishing high school, I had nothing in 
particular to do. 

MASON: Wasn't it expensive, though, to go to the college? 
PURIFOY: I don't know. I didn't pay anything. I made 
application in the spring of 1934, and then I went to 
Tennessee to live with my sister [Ophelia Purifoy] during the 
summer. When I got back, I received a letter saying that I 
was rejected at Alabama State. I didn't accept that. I just 
went on down there anyhow. I packed my few little things and 
boarded an interstate bus, I think. It was about 130 miles 
from Birmingham to Montgomery. I told them my story, that I 
didn't have any money, that "You rejected my application, but 
I'm here anyhow because I don't have anything else to do." 
They said, "Well, we're sorry, we're filled up." I hung 
around for about a week, sleeping wherever I could, in the 
dormitory, in the hall, or anywhere. And finally I was 
accepted. They said, "Okay, you can come on in." There was 
a program called NYC, I believe. National Youth Corps [NYA, 
National Youth Administration] . The president put me on that 
list, and I received some moneys from them for my 
education. The rest of it I worked out in the maintenance 


department of the school . That ' s how I managed for four 
years. I didn't have to pay anything. 

MASON: You just said that what was going on in the streets 
was more interesting to you. What was going on in the 
streets that you were involved in while you were in school 
that was more interesting than what you were doing in 
school? You mentioned that you tried to go into the army 
and they rejected you, so I suppose a lot of your buddies 
had maybe joined, I don't know. What things were you 
involved in outside of school that were important to you or 
interesting to you? 

PURIFOY: Well, that takes in a lot of years. While you 
asked the question, I flashed back on what I was doing in 
elementary school, and there wasn't much to do. There were 
kids to play with, but otherwise it wasn't much-- We played 
like the average children did. We made things to play 
with. You see, the skateboard was something that highly 
resembled the skateboards that they use today, except they 
had a handle. We made it out of old skates. We made 
wagons to play with, four-wheeled wagons, two-wheeled 
wagons to play with. Nearby, in back of where we lived, 
was a corn mill, and they threw away burlap sacks which the 
corn came in to grind it up into meal. So I collected 
these burlap sacks and spread them out and nailed them down 
underneath the house where we lived, and I had a place to 


retreat when I felt like being by myself or inviting kids 

to come in and we'd play house and things like that. So it 

was average kids ' play that involved whatever kids did at 

the age of seven, eight, nine, and ten, up to twelve years 

old. In high school, I had a couple of buddies, but I read 

most of the time. I'd go to the library and-- 

MASON: What kinds of things? 

PURIFOY: I'd check out a whole bunch of books and sit on 

the porch and read, novels, most of them. 

MASON: What was your taste back then? Just popular 


PURIFOY: Yeah. Zane Grey, you know, stuff like that. 

MASON: Then you went to the teachers college, after 

teaching industrial arts. 

PURIFOY: I think I went to war first. 

MASON: So you were drafted eventually? 


MASON: Oh, I didn't know that. 

PURIFOY: Yeah, I went to war first. Then when I came back 

I entered graduate school . 

MASON: What year were you drafted, then? 

PURIFOY: In 1942. I wasn't drafted, I volunteered. I 

volunteered . 

MASON: And where were you sent when you were drafted? 

PURIFOY: To the Pacific. From Port Hueneme, where they 


train the Seabees. I was in the navy Seabees, the 
construction battalion. 
MASON: What is that exactly? 

PURIFOY: Oh, you build airfields and Quonset huts and 
prepare camps for the marines, facilities like they're 
doing now in Iraq or Saudi Arabia. The Seabees have just 
recently left Port Hueneme to go to Saudi Arabia to 
construct airfields and stuff like that. 

I was a carpenter's mate first-class, I think, 
eventually. While I was in the military, there was a big 
stink about prejudice and segregation and discrimination. 
MASON: Was that something that you were involved in 
personally, to try to get the military desegregated? 
PURIFOY: Yeah. I'd lean toward controversy. There wasn't 
much to-do, except we'd just talked it up and made it known 
that we were unhappy about the discrimination and 
segregation, where we were being managed by intellectually 
inferior people. I had a degree in college when I went 
into the military, and I was managed by some white cat who 
hadn't even finished high school, and stuff like that. 
They didn't recognize blacks who were reasonably 
intelligent and could manage the navy better than the 
management that they had. So we made it known that we 
weren't happy with that, 
MASON: Did anything come out of it? 


PURIFOY: They had some investigations, but nothing 

inunediate came out of it as far as our unit was 

concerned. Except I got a promotion out of it and some 

changes, I think, in the high echelon. The captain was 

moved and somebody else put in his place. Yeah, some 

things did happen of a small nature locally, that is, where 

I was in the Pacific. But nationally, I think, is where 

they commissioned some blacks both in the Air Corps as well 

as the army. I don't know about the navy. 

MASON: Is there anything else about the experience in the 

service that you remember? 

PURIFOY: No. No, nothing unusual. 

MASON: Overall did you gain skills maybe that were useful 

to you later? 

PURIFOY: No. I used the skills that I already had to get 

promotions and to have soft jobs. I was in the water 

distillation, so I had a soft job. I watched the whole war 

from a hilltop, where the purification units were, where we 

made the water for the guys to drink. In the Pacific, I 

saw our people bomb the island to smithereens and ships 

split apart and all that. But I was above it all. I 

experienced little or no danger in the attack. 

MASON: Then after that you decided to go to graduate 


PURIFOY: Yeah, I came home, and I wanted to get a Ph.D., 


but I was embarrassed with the idea. 
MASON: Why? Why were you embarrassed? 

PURIFOY: Well, I always associated Ph.D.'s with the elite, 
and I wanted to avoid these associations with the elite. 
MASON: You mean like the bourgeoisie? Okay. What was so 
distasteful about--? 

PURIFOY: Because it was a white thing. I had experienced 
enough prejudice to not have an affinity for anything 
related to white society, and education of that ilk was 
related to white society. 

MASON: So you didn't want to be part of the "talented 
tenth" or-- 

PURIFOY: No, I actually had a strong affinity for blacks, 
and I wanted to experience us at the level where we lived 
at. That [resulted in] my self-imposed poverty in my art 
years. I did not want lots of money or lots of clothes or 
anything like that. I wanted to experience what's it like 
to be poor. I could have been not poor, but it was self- 
imposed poverty. I wanted to know what it was like. I 
wanted to experience all the ins and outs of poverty so 
that I could report it as it was. Which accounts for the 
media I used to express my feelings about the aesthetics. 
MASON: When you say "report it," report it to whom? 
PURIFOY: To the world. To anyone who would listen. 
"Report" meaning any way you express yourself. In other 


words, it was through art that I chose to express myself. 
But I think we're getting ahead of the story here. 
MASON: Okay, all right. So what did you study, then, at 
the teachers college, specifically? What degree did you 
get and what did that allow you to do? 

PURIFOY: Well, when I got out of the service, I went to 
Atlanta U[niversity] , where I studied social service 
administration, social work. I got my degree in social 
work, and I worked at it for two or three years, or three 
or four years, in Cleveland and in Los Angeles. 
MASON: What was the program like in Atlanta? I was going 
to ask if you knew Hale Woodruff when he was there. You 
weren't involved in the arts specifically then, but the 
Atlanta University shows, the exhibitions of black art, 
seem to have been kind of a big thing back then. I'm 
wondering if that ever crossed your path while you were 
there at all. 

PURIFOY: No, I wasn't interested in art at the time. I 
was actually interested in social work, because I figured 
it was a means by which I could help black people. In 
other words, I could inject here that I was programmed to 
do good, and that's the worst kind of goodness, which we 
can get into some other time. My whole concept of-- I 
think my mother must have held me up by the heels when I 
was not two years old yet and said that I had to be 


somebody. So I set off to interpret that for the rest of 
my life. And my schooling was a means by which I thought 
that I could best express myself, if I was educated in the 
field that I chose to express myself. So that's why I took 
up social work. Eventually, after doing art, I was able to 
put together all my skills and become reasonably effective 
in areas of doing good. We can check up on that later. 
^4AS0N: So what was the program? I mean, what did you have 
to do to get this degree in social work? Was there like an 
internship involved? Or do you remember any of the reading 
that you had to do that you thought was helpful? Or do you 
remember any professors that you studied with that were 
helpful to you in any way? Was there anything about it 
itself that was interesting for you, or was it just 
something that you just thought, you know, you had to do to 
get through so you could--? 

PURIFOY: Well, academically, I was a poor student. So I 
was helped by my classmates in the university to pass the 
tests and whatnot. That's how I got to graduate. 


SEPTEMBER 8, 1990 

MASON: You were saying that your classmates helped you get 
through school and that you were a poor student 
academically but you got help. I was just asking, were 
there any professors who were important to you or any 
reading that you did that really stuck in your mind or that 
you go back to today? 

PURIFOY: Yeah. I can remember now. I was introduced to 
psychology in graduate school, which interested me a great 
deal, up to recent years, in fact. As a result of my 
education at the university, I developed an interest in 
Heidegger and Husserl ' s concept of existentialism. It grew 
out of my study of psychology and psychiatry. Sigmund 
Freud was a very interesting person to me at the time. And 
I thought that-- I wanted to explore the possibility that 
blacks could use psychotherapy. Of course, I found out 
later that uneducated people [find it] difficult to use 
that discipline for good health--for health, as the case 
may be. But that was my sustained interest after my 
university stint, and that's my sustained interest 
throughout the years. It was very popular in art, as the 
case was. So I did utilize psychotherapy as an art 

When we get to discussing some of my artwork, as you 


intimated earlier, there was a piece that I did called Six 
Birds , which was shown at the [California] Afro-American 
[Museum] exhibition ["19 Sixties: A Cultural Awakening Re- 
evaluated, 1965-1975"] at Exposition Park recently, and we 
can talk about that. 

MASON: Well, we can talk about that now, since you brought 
it up, instead of waiting for it to come along. Let's see, 
what year did you do that? 

PURIFOY: I went to Atlanta in 1946, I believe, 1945. Wait 
a minute. It must be down there. I don't quite recall 
specifically. It's not a university-- 
MASON: I had '48 when you got your degree, I think. 
PURIFOY: A '48 degree? 
MASON: Yeah. 

PURIFOY: So I must have gone there in 1946. I was there 
two years. 

MASON: I have that you did Six Birds in '67. 
PURIFOY: Uh-huh. Six Birds was one of many pieces I did 
with psychological overtones. It was a very somber 
piece. Black on black I was experimenting with at the 
time, where across the front of a screened area were seven 
objects that looked like birds. I imagined on the other 
side of this screened area was somebody peeping out, maybe 
a prisoner someplace, where what he saw was confined to a 
small area. So oftentimes the truth is not evident. 


because if he had been outside, he would have counted seven 
birds instead of six. The caption said they were all 
different colors, but they weren't all different colors-- 
it was just one color. So that became a very popular 
piece. I don't want to use the word "popular." It was an 
extremely significant piece. 

I recall that the [Los Angeles] County Museum of Art 
had solicited it from me to put down in the rental 
gallery. Somebody came from the East to look at my work, 
and I sent him over to the rental gallery in the museum. 
He saw Six Birds and beat it back and bought it right away. 
MASON: Who was this who came from the East to look at your 
work? What was his name? Was it a private collector or--? 
PURIFOY: No, it was somebody from the Whitney Museum [of 
American Art] in New York [Robert M. Doty]. It's down 
there someplace. Six Birds , Whitney Museum. And it was 
borrowed, as I said earlier, from the Whitney to show in 
this Exposition [Park] exhibition. 
MASON: That was the "19 Sixties" Olympics exhibition. 

Was Jung at all popular or interesting to you? 
Because I know he became, I guess, more popular in the 
fifties, with-- 
PURIFOY: Carl Jung? 
MASON: Yeah. 
PURIFOY: Yeah. You know, in the fifties we all were 


interested in the new life, so to speak, the new concepts 
and all. It seemed as though the sixties movement was 
vaguely based on a European concept of freedom, manifested 
by Carl Jung and Jean-Paul Sartre. These people were 
quoted often as the seekers and the leaders of freedom. I 
went a little further and studied, as I said earlier, from 
two other people who I thought had gone beyond Carl Jung 
and Jean-Paul. They were Heidegger and Husserl, the 
fathers of existentialism. Existence and existentialism 
were so closely interrelated with each other with an 
outstanding philosopher in America, whose name I can't 
recall at the time [William James] . He would have been the 
father of existentialism had he been a European. Because 
he had written earlier about the freedom of the mind to do 
what it was inclined to do, that the body could develop 
more healthfully if the mind was constructed in a way in 
which it had knowledge of the body interrelated with the 
mind. So in those early years of the freedom movement, the 
body-mind thing was then thought of to interrelate with 
each other, to be equal to each other. To me that was 
extremely profound, that my body and mind had been 
estranged. It gave me impetus to want to interrelate them, 
to become one. So during the height of my art years, I 
also experienced something extremely profound in that I had 
these oceanic experiences. 


MASON: I'm sorry, what kind of experiences? 

PURIFOY: Oceanic experiences. Are you familiar with that? 

MASON: No, not at all. 

PURIFOY: Well, I started out by levitating. Lying on the 

floor in the morning and it appeared that my body was off 

the floor. I could lie there for hours on end, and the 

time passed without my knowledge. Sometimes I'd look up 

and I'd been there four hours levitating. 

MASON: Is this something you knew you could do? Or did it 

just happen once or — ? 

PURIFOY: Well, it was interrelated with the mind-body 

thing and art. All that was interrelated with itself, with 

each other, with my study of existentialism and whatnot. 

It brought all of this about. 

It also brought back my childhood, too, and my basic 
self. I was basically a good person. And as I told you 
earlier, I was programmed to do good. But a good person 
and doing good are not the same. They're different. 
Oftentimes I think of Martin Luther King [Jr.] as a person 
who was programmed to do good. He couldn't do otherwise, 
because his name was Martin Luther. Martin Luther was a 
Christian of the earlier years. "King" is somebody who 
wears a crown, "Junior" somebody: belonged to somebody 
else. So he was not himself, he wasn't a person. He was a 
manifestation of someone else's idea. Maybe his father or 


mother Imbued him with the need to do good because the 

black race which he belonged to needed his help. Well, I 

was pretty much the same kind of person. I chose to 

express it in art, rather than in religion, as Martin 

Luther King did. 

MASON: So you would say that organized religion wasn't 

really a big part of your life after you left home. 

PURIFOY: No, I abhorred it. I abhorred organized 

religion. It was an ugly thing. Particularly manifested 

in Catholicism. 

MASON: How did you come into contempt of Catholicism? 

PURIFOY: Oh, that wealth and all that pomp turned me off 


MASON: But you said your family was Methodist. How did 

you come in contact with the Catholic church? 

PURIFOY: The media. [laughter] 

MASON: Okay, okay. I didn't know if you had a friend 

maybe you went to church with or-- 

PURIFOY: No, no, the media. And being interested in doing 

good, you want to be knowledgeable of all of the things in 

life that are supposed to do good. Well, Catholicism 

wasn't one of them. 

MASON: What about Methodism or another religion that you 

remember from back then? 

PURIFOY: No, that wasn't one either. No kind of organized 


religion was-- I wasn't interested in any kind of organized 
religion at all. I take that back. My childhood 
experience was sprinkled with episodes of the influence of 
organized religion. I remember quite distinctly every year 
Father Divine would come to Birmingham. Remember Father 

MASON: Yeah. He was based in Harlem, I guess. 
PURIFOY: Yeah. He would make a yearly trek to Alabama, to 
Birmingham, and set up this big tent where everybody came 
to try to get religion. He would lay on hands and all that 
stuff. People would fall out, you know, with the spirit 
and all of that. Well, every time, every year he'd come, 
from the time I was twelve years old till I was fifteen, 
I'd go to these meetings and try to get religion. I ' d go 
up there and bow down and strain hard to get religion. 
Instead, I always got an erection. I got a hard-on 
straining to get religion. That was the manifestation, the 
result of my straining. 

So I developed a problem that took me years and years 
to resolve. I had a conflict between sex and religion. In 
later years, to resolve the problem, I was about to say how 
often I went to church on Sundays, different kinds of 
church, looking for the spirit, looking for the kind of 
things that people testify about on Monday morning. They'd 
knock on everybody's door and say, "I got the spirit, I got 


religion." You must be familiar with that. 
MASON: Yeah. 

PURIFOY: Well, yes, that's how Christianity influenced 
me. Until I was in my early adulthood, I struggled to 
attain that great something that everybody thought was so 
great and everything. But I didn't ever succeed, so I 
abandoned it. In other words, I silently, without 
announcing it, became an atheist. You know, I don't know 
what an atheist is, except one who does not believe in 
God. But to this day, I've had no god. I wish I did 
sometimes, but I don't. And that probably concludes my 
religious experience. 


SEPTEMBER 8, 1990 

MASON: We ended up talking about religion. Is there 
anything else that you wanted to add to that? Because I 
guess the next thing we'll talk about is your work as a 
social worker. 

PURIFOY: After I got my degree from Atlanta U[niversity] , 
I came back to Cleveland, where my family was, and got a 
job at Cuyahoga County child welfare [Cuyahoga County 
Department of Social Services] , and I worked there two 
years. My responsibility was the total care for youth. I 
had mostly infants and youth in early childhood. I had to 
find them a place to live and provide clothing and so 
forth--total care. We also were an adoption agency, so I 
did all that. It was an interesting experience. I put my 
education to use in a most profound way, because I had an 
opportunity to do so. I felt gratified. 

Now, I was offered a job at another institution, where 
I worked for about three months, at a mental institution, 
as a bibliotherapist . Bibliotherapy does not work with 
mental patients. I don't know why-- 
MASON: What is bibliotherapy? 

PURIFOY: I don't know why they felt it worked, but it did 
not. Not because I was a failure, but because the whole 
program was a failure. 


MASON: What is bibliotherapy? 

PURIFOY: You expose adults and young adults to books that 
you think will improve their mental condition. And I left 
there. It was too depressing a kind of a job, and I 
couldn't relate to those people. You know, it's outside of 
my realm of-- 

MASON: The patients or the administrators? 

PURIFOY: Patients. So I left Ohio and came to California, 
because I'd been in the military service in California, and 
I dreamed of returning, because it was a very pleasant 

MASON: I just wanted to try to get some more detail about 
the social work. When you said it was depressing and the 
program was a failure, what did you mean by that? 
PURIFOY: Well, I left there and went to Los Angeles and 
got a job at the [Los Angeles] County Hospital, where I 
worked for two or three years. I couldn't get along with 
my supervisors, primarily because they were all women. I 
had a problem with that- -being bossed by a female. I never 
overcame it because I didn't have to. I just went from job 
to job. But I had a tendency to work fast with the 
patients, and I was in charge of patients who had problems 
accepting medical help, mostly religious people. Seventh 
Day Adventists, that type of thing, who had problems 
accepting medical help sometimes. And I had mental 


patients as well. I would discharge them rapidly because 
the hospital needed the beds. My supervisors were 
concerned about my being able to discharge people so 

And also I didn't like my coworkers, because social 
workers have a certain personality type that believes that 
they're God. It's just like it's their money instead of 
the state's money. Socially, they were hard to get along 
with because they brought their work home with them, etc. 

So I finally left the hospital after two or three 
years and made application to Chouinard Art Institute, just 
out of the clear blue. I passed that one day and said, "I 
think I want to go to art school . " And I was accepted 
without portfolio or anything, 

MASON: Really? Now, that's unusual because-- Well, the 
interview I did with-- Well, Bill [William] Pajaud was one 
of the earliest black people to go to Chouinard, and he 
talked (well, it's in a book [Robert Ferine ' s Chouinard, an 
Art Vision Betrayed; The Story of the Chouinard Art 
Institute, 1921-1972 ] ) about Chouinard, about the prejudice 
that Nelbert Chouinard, the one who founded the art school, 
had toward blacks. They didn't want blacks to go to the 
school . 

PURIFOY: I didn't experience that. I was considered the 
first full-time black student. I didn't experience any 



MASON: You were there from '52 to '56, I guess. 


MASON: Well, that's interesting that they accepted you 

even without a portfolio. How did you--? 

PURIFOY: I was the poorest student there. 

MASON: How did you convince them to let you in? 

PURIFOY: I don't know. I just walked in, said I wanted to 

go to school there, and they said, "Okay." 

MASON: That's amazing! When did you--? 

PURIFOY: I thought it was par for the course. I didn't 

know that it was unusual. Mrs. Chouinard, I was on 

speaking terms with her, and she never showed any signs of 

prejudice or discrimination. 

I started out majoring in industrial art, and they 
discontinued that course my second year there, so I 
switched to fine arts. I remember my ceramics teacher most 
of all, whose name was-- What was her name? Susan 
Peterson. She came after Peter Voulkos. I never got a 
chance to study under Peter Voulkos, but I got a chance to 
observe his work and all. 
MASON: What did you think of his work? 

PURIFOY: I thought his little stuff was great, but his big 
stuff was just terrible. But he got big. Artists have a 
tendency to want to get big when they're successful at 


small stuff. He was very successful at making small stuff, 
and he had, at the time, a very enviable reputation. Now 
he's probably world-known, no doubt. But I rubbed elbows 
with those people, and they influenced me a great deal in 
terms of accepting me as a student. Now, Susan thought I 
was a beautiful person, so I did great work, although I 
didn't ever want to be a ceramicist. But I did good work 
because she was so amiable. 
MASON: Do you have any of those pieces? 

PURIFOY: No. I kept one piece for a long time, and I sold 
it. It was a head--an African ceramic head. I never 
bothered about trying to duplicate the human image. I 
always had an opposition to that. So I refused to draw. I 
refused to learn to draw. Today, I cannot draw, because I 
was afraid I'd get stuck with the human image, and I knew 
it didn't express my basic feeling about nature and about 
being: that the human is not the essence of being. The 
human in relationship to the world is the essence of 
being. And I knew that even then. Therefore I had 
problems trying to draw, because the drawing always 
includes the human figure. There's the model sitting there 
naked and whatnot. You're supposed to duplicate that. I 
thought it was copying. 

So I never did go for landscape or anything like that, 
because I didn't see-- You can't make it better, so I 


didn't see-- They had it wrong. The creativity was not 
manifested in either nature or human nature, because it was 
always predictable. So I didn't see art as-- I don't know 
where I got these ideas from about art, but I found in 
later years that it's as close to the creative process as 
any thinking ever was. I don't know where I got it from, 
but somehow I got into art knowing all that already. I 
don't know where I got it from, as I say. 

But anyhow, what turned me on to art, really, was art 
history. That probably relates to where you are at. When 
I got to study how art is formed and all the kinds of 
manifestations, it gave me the impetus to do art. Because 
I had these things inside of me ready to be expressed, but 
I didn't have a media through which to express them. I 
tried education, that didn't work. I tried social work, 
that didn't work. I'd try this and that, didn't work. It 
didn't communicate to the people my deep feelings. So I 
was almost always at a loss to feel that I was 
understood. And art, being a nonverbal language, enabled 
me to feel I at least understood myself, if others didn't. 
MASON: So you felt it was through this ceramics that you 
did that? 

PURIFOY: Yeah, Susan helped me along to realize my full 
potential . 
MASON: Did you have a personal relationship with her or 


just student- teacher? 

PURIFOY: No, she was just a good person. She was a great 

person, that's all. 

MASON: What about other people in the school? Did you--? 

Because there were some big names at Chouinard. Robert 

Irwin was there, and I think John Altoon was there, you 

know, as students. Did you interact with these students in 

any way? 

PURIFOY: No, I didn't have much time to fool around, 

because I had to work in order to pay my tuition. I worked 

out at the Douglas Aircraft [Company] defense plant at 


MASON: What did you do there? 

PURIFOY: I operated a shearing machine that cut metal a 

certain size into templates. Then after I couldn't manage 

that any longer, because it took up a good deal of time, 

going to and fro and working all night and whatnot, I got a 

job at Cannel [and Schaffen] Interior Designs on Wilshire 

Boulevard. They had a big shop on Wilshire Boulevard full 

of furniture. I was a window trimmer. So I could set the 

furniture up and dress it off and whatnot. 

MASON: Did you like that or it was just a job? 

PURIFOY: I never liked to work, particularly work for 

somebody else. No, I didn't particularly like it. In 

fact, I got fired because I wanted to sell furniture. You 


know, I wanted to be an interior designer. That's what I 

studied in school. And that wasn't the right place to 

express myself. I'd come work extra on Saturdays, show 

customers around without permission, and the management 

didn't like that. They didn't want black interior 

designers. You know, they wondered where I got the gall 

from. So just before I graduated I got fired from that 


MASON: What kind of furniture did they have? Did they 

have a lot of modern furniture? 

PURIFOY: Oh, yes. The very best. 

MASON: Do you remember some of the names? 

PURIFOY: Yeah. Heritage. Are you familiar with the 

Heritage line of furnishings? Herman Miller. Boy, those 

are two of the greatest lines in the country. Still are. 


MASON: Okay, well, I don't know. 

PURIFOY: Yeah. They had everything. You know, from 

Biedermeier, French Provincial, Louis XV, XVI -- They had 

everything. They had three floors stacked with every kind 

of furniture you can name. And a lot of great interior 


So after I graduated, I didn't go into interior 
design, because you have to have your own business and 
whatnot. Nobody wants to hire you. I had woodworking 


skills, so I got a job at Angelus Furniture [Warehouse] 
company designing furniture. 

MASON: So you ended up taking your degree in interior 
design? I mean, you went from industrial arts to fine arts 

PURIFOY: Well, no. No, I majored in fine arts, but my 
skills were industrial arts, you know, because of my high 
school training and whatnot. I was always good with my 
hands, and I could operate any kind of machinery. So I got 
this job designing furniture. But I couldn't design 
anything that they could make commercially. It was too 

MASON: What did they look like? Or what was the concept? 
PURIFOY: Modern stuff. Contemporary. I was really up to 
snuff because I was going to school. I just had a year of 
industrial design, and the rest of it was spent drawing 
this and that, drawing interiors. I took all my drawing 
classes where I could draw interiors. The rest of the 
class weren't drawing interiors, for the most part. They 
were drawing Louis XV and Louis XVI interiors and excerpts 
from interiors and whatnot, but basically it was a figure- 
drawing class. They let me get away with drawing anything 
I wanted to draw, just so long as I was drawing. 
MASON: I was just thinking that Irving Blum came-- Do you 
know Irving Blum? He had a gallery [Ferus Gallery; Blum 


Helmon Gallery] for a while. When he was in New York, he 

worked for this contemporary art store. That's kind of how 

he got his start in the arts. I was just wondering, since 

you were interested in that, if you had had any contact 

with him at all. 

PURIFOY: No. After I left, I took a job operating one of 

the machines, after they couldn't use my designs at Angelus 

Furniture company. They still exist, of course. They make 

cheap furniture and-- Nothing of consequence now, but they 

used to be a leading furniture manufacturer in Los 

Angeles. After I left there, I started doing window 

trimming at the Broadway department store. 

MASON: Because that was the only thing you could find or--? 

PURIFOY: Related to my skills, yes. 

MASON: When you graduated, you must have had some idea or 

vision of where you wanted to go with your life then. Do 

you remember what that was? Did you have any plans? 

PURIFOY: Well, while I was at Chouinard, I met a student — 

a part-time student--whose name was John Smith, and he was 

already an interior designer. He was a mail carrier while 

he studied at Chouinard and other places to be an interior 


MASON: Was he a black guy? 

PURIFOY: Uh-huh. Finally, he was able to just exclusively 

do interior design. I went in with him more or less and 


did the things in interior design that he didn't want to 
do, like hanging drapery and supervising the carpet laying, 
and all that type of thing, in my spare time after working 
eight hours at the Broadway, with the idea that I would 
eventually go into interior design. 

Well, I actually became a better designer than my 
friend, but I couldn't please Mrs. Jones. You know, I 
would go and hang the drapery and have the carpet laid and 
do this and that, tear out this wall and design furniture 
and have it custom-made and all that. But she'd keep 
calling me back about something wrong. Now, I couldn't 
endure that. I just hated that kind of thing, that I could 
never complete a job. I mean, they'll call you back to do 
something over. So for those reasons, interior design did 
not appeal to me as such. It was exciting, because I love 
color, fabric, and that type of thing. But I couldn't work 
with the people, which was one of my basic problems anyhow. 
MASON: What do you mean? It was a basic problem? 
PURIFOY: Dealing with personalities. That's when Sigmund 
Freud became so interesting to me, that he dealt with these 
archetypes. Carl Jung spoke about them extensively. 
Psychology has a tendency to put people in pigeonholes- - 
categorize them- -for your own aggrandizement, your own 
satisfaction, your own comfort in the universe, in the 
world. It's better to deal with somebody you know- -or at 


least you think you know- -because you put them in this 
little box, and you know all about that little box and 
what's in it. So you put them in that little box, and you 
could deal with them. You see them coming a mile away. 
You know what they're going to say. You know what they're 
going to do. 

So I had a tendency to interpret psychology in this 
way, and I made a fairly good adjustment with people as a 
result of doing so, knowing full well it was unfair. But 
for my own peace of mind, so to speak, that's the way I got 
along in the world. 

MASON: So you were finished with the interior design, and 
then what did you do? What years was that? Let's see. You 
graduated in '56. You were at the Broadway from '56 to '64. 
PURIFOY: Uh-huh. Then came Watts. Eve Echelman, somebody 
who worked for the Watts Towers Committee [Committee to 
Save Simon Rodia's Towers in Watts]-- They had hired 
someone to look after their business in Watts, look after 
the towers, look after the little school they had. They 
were looking for somebody with an art degree and some 
experience with social service, which was me. I was 
unemployed at the time, and I said, "Well, that sounds just 
like me." And I split for Watts. 

MASON: Where were you living at the time when you were 
working at the Broadway? 


PURIFOY: On La Brea [Avenue] . 

MASON: What kind of community was that there? 

PURIFOY: On La Brea? Well, everybody knows about that old 

house I had. I had moved there when the rent was $50 a 

month, and I'd probably been there twenty years or fifteen 

years or so when I went to work in Watts. That little 

place where I lived became a center for most of the artists 

and people I know that would come through and sit and-- 

MASON: This was after you started to work at the center? 


MASON: Oh, it was before. 


MASON: Oh, well, we should talk about that, then, before 

we get-- 

PURIFOY: Well, I got interested in high fidelity and sound 

and record collection. 

MASON: What kind of music? I know there were some jazz 

musicians who came out to L.A. 

PURIFOY: Yeah. I was already a student of jazz, and I 

hired a tutor to teach me to appreciate classics. Because 

I had little or no classical background. I felt a dire 

need to understand the classics, because I hated Beethoven 

or anything that sounded like Beethoven. Everybody says 

Beethoven's so great and all. If I can't see the 

greatness, there's something wrong with me. I said. 


"There's definitely nothing wrong with me, you know, never 
has been. There's something wrong with you all who think 
Beethoven is that great. Don't you hear the overtones 
here? That music is only for a few ears. It doesn't 
relate to where I am or where I've been or where I'm going 
in the least. It doesn't relate. But yet I have to know 
about it." So I bought a whole bunch of classics and I got 
a tutor, and he tried to teach me to appreciate classical 
music. Failed miserably. 
MASON: Where was your tutor from? 

PURIFOY: I don't recall who it was. It was just somebody 
that I knew. It wasn't anybody of note. It was just 
somebody who appreciated the classics and who could talk 
about them intelligently. Well, I wasn't satisfied with 
just the sound coming out of two speakers. I had to apply 
my skills and construct a nine-foot cabinet to hold my 
instruments. I designed my own speakers, and the sound was 
superb. There wasn't anything such as-- I forget the 
terms. But anyhow, I had the latest sounds around. And 
people came from far and near to hear. I was stepping over 
people over the weekend whom I didn't even know. They were 
flopping at my pad all day and all night. But I encouraged 
this because I had a need to want to understand people. I 
had a problem with people. You're not supposed to have a 
problem with people if you're going to influence them. So 


I had a need for people to gather around me, and they came 
from everywhere. I developed some interesting friends as 
the results of that. Harry Drinkwater, a photographer, was 
one. We still are friends, wherever he's at. 

In other words, although I liked girls a lot, I didn't 
know how to approach them. I always would approach girls 
as though they were my sisters, to be corrected if they're 
wrong. That didn't strike well. So I had real problems 
with girls, not only with people, but girls. I knew that 
didn't make for a very well rounded life. I knew the 
cause, basically, of my inability to relate to women was 
because I had six sisters. I couldn't be natural around 
them. I'm acting like a brother all the time. A girl 
doesn't want a brother, she wants a lover. 

I thought it was black women that I was having this 
problem with, so I started going with white women because 
they were available to me. And I did a little better. To 
say the least, I did a little better. Then I could look at 
a black woman as my sister and it was okay. If I have sex 
with her, you know, I feel a little bit guilty, because I 
feel like it's incest. You know what I mean? But I waited 
too long to relate to women in ways in which I could 
anticipate marriage. So I became a stud, in a way. Women 
who were ashamed to be with me in polite company would come 
on Saturday morning and spend the day. These were black 


women. I felt really comfortable with these women whom I 
could relate to this way with no future, no anticipation. 
They thought they were getting away with something, and I 
was getting away with having a satisfying relationship with 
a black female without any attachments, which I always felt 
there ought to have been. In order to relate intimately, 
there should be some projection into the future, like where 
are we going, etc. So this went on for years. It was 

I began to like myself better, and consequently I 
could go on and do my work. That's when I started to do 
art. I quit the Broadway department store, came home, and 
just sat around for a year thinking about doing art. I had 
one drawing that I copied somewhere, and that was the focal 
point with everybody who came to talk. I had a studio 
clean enough to eat off the table. I never did a lick of 
work there. I wasn't in the studio. I had a beret and 
all. I ate cheese and drank wine, but I wasn't an artist 
yet until Watts. That made me an artist. 

MASON: I want to hear more about this period and some of 
your other friends, because it seems that there are a lot 
of sort of bohemian enclaves for artists in the fifties, 
different jazz clubs people would hang out at. 
PURIFOY: I wasn't even an artist, but they flocked around 
me anyhow because I pretended to be an artist. I'd 


graduated from art school, and I had ten years of 

experience vaguely with artists. So I was accepted as an 

artist. In fact, I didn't have anything to show for it. 

^4AS0N: Did you have any friends who called themselves 


PURIFOY: Just about like myself. Sunday painters. That's 

about the extent of it. 

MASON: Did they ever go on to practice it full-time or 


PURIFOY: Well, after I started doing art, then the artists 

came. I was the artist's artist. They dug my work, my 

mannerism and my style, more than the people did. It was 

the artists that corralled around me because I had words to 

say about art, to relate to art. Having three academic 

degrees by then, I was pretty verbal and astute. And I was 

also extremely knowledgeable about people, because I had so 

many problems with them in growing up and so forth. I had 

a whole flock of people around me all the time. It came in 

real handy when I originated "66 Signs of Neon." I had all 

the help I needed. 

MASON: What about the art history? Did you continue to 

read about that or learn about that or visit the galleries 

and the museums? 

PURIFOY: I visited galleries and museums frequently. 

MASON: Which ones did you go to? 


PURIFOY: The [Los Angeles] County Museum [of Art] I 
frequented often and the galleries on La Cienega 
[Boulevard] every Monday night. That was before I was a 
full-time artist. Simply because not only was I interested 
in art--knowing about art--I was also interested in what 
was going on. So I went down to Tijuana once a week. I 
was interested in knowing what was happening in the 
community all over the place. I went to UCLA to hear all 
their concerts. Till Stravinsky died, I saw every one of 
his. So I was just knowledgeable about what was going on 
all over the place. I wasn't participating. I was just 
knowledgeable about it, because I felt responsible to know. 
MASON: What about assemblage art in particular? There was 
the Ferus Gallery that Ed [Edward] Kienholz had, and he 
would show his friends assemblage art. 
PURIFOY: Well, I always thought I was better than 
Kienholz, simply because my things did not extract from an 
individual that which he didn't choose to give. Kienholz 
did that, and I didn't like that. 
MASON: Extract from an individual--? 

PURIFOY: That which he didn't intend to give. Pathos. 
That's Kienholz. Kienholz has all the characteristics of 
the Jew that wants you to feel bad because he wants you to 
feel bad. His hospital scenes and all are evidence of 
that. And I didn't like that. I didn't care about that. 


We both showed in Germany, but I never did like Kienholz's 

stuff. You've probably read articles about-- 

MASON: Yeah, they compared your — 

PURIFOY: Right. 

MASON: You did a tableau for the — 

PURIFOY: I resented that. I didn't ever do it publicly, 

but I resented being compared with Kienholz. I thought I 

was more of a person than that, to do stuff like that. 


SEPTEMBER 8, 1990 

PURIFOY: When the U.S. Office of Information asked me if I 

wanted to exhibit in Germany in a recycling exhibition they 

were having over there-- When was it? Nineteen something. 

MASON: In '67? I don't see it right away. We can fill it 

in later. It was around '68. 

PURIFOY: They'd tell me who was going to be showing, you 

know, and give me a choice to decide whether I wanted to 

show or not. Because of the title of the exhibit, some of 

the people refused to show. Among them was what ' s-her- 

name, who does these shadow-box things, Louise Nevelson. 

But anyhow, Kienholz and I were the ones who committed 

ourselves to showing in Germany. 

MASON: Okay. I have it here. It was 1972, and it's 

"Garbage Needs Recycling." 

PURIFOY: Right. Even then I'd already formulated some 

concepts about Kienholz. He seems to be the subject 

here. I was supposed to feel like something showing with 

him, but I didn't. It didn't matter with me. 

MASON: But you knew about his work from the galleries 

prior to the show. 

PURIFOY: Yeah, from seeing it. 

MASON: You didn't like it then, and you never did like it. 

PURIFOY: I never did like it, no. 


MASON: Well, we should talk about your installation, then, 
at the Brockman Gallery, even though we're jumping ahead. 
But as long as we're talking about-- Because you were 
compared to Kienholz a lot with that, with the tableau, 
with the long titles. Niggers Ain't Never Ever Gonna Be 
Nothin'--All They Want To Do Is Drink + Fuck . Could you 
talk about that piece and what you were trying to do with 
it and anything else you want to--? [tape recorder off] 
PURIFOY: The best example of what I'm talking about has to 
do with the world of the spirit, Christianity, and 
religion. Now, those people are hard sell. They want 
everybody in the world to be like them, so that's why they 
spread the word. Well, artists have taken on some of the 
same characteristics as religion, and I think it's not cool 
at all. It has little or nothing to do with the creative 
process as it is. My ideas come from having people try to 
influence me into becoming someone other than who I am at 
their will instead of my own. When artists begin to use 
their work to communicate something that they think people 
ought to be or feel, I think it's an af f rontation, and I 
think art loses its real essence, based on the creative 

The creative process is something that you never know 
enough about. Even though you do art for all your life, or 
two lifetimes, you do it without a knowledge of the 


creative process, which is very interesting. So I made a 
long study of the creative process and attempted to relate 
it to art. They're two different extremes. Art and the 
creative process are not one and the same thing. My idea 
is to interrelate them if I can, like I attempted to 
interrelate my mind with my body to make one whole 
person. I think most of the things in the world--idea- 
wise, particularly--need to be related to human beings or 
related to one another. In other words, I lived almost a 
half to two-thirds of a lifetime telling other people how 
to live without applying it to my own self. One day I 
turned around and said, "Is what I know applicable to 
me?" It was the most upsetting idea I ever had in my whole 
life. In fact, I'm not over with it yet. Because all that 
I ever was was not applicable to me. Because I thought I 
was okay. "It's the world that's wrong, not me." You can 
imagine what it's like to carry that around with you all 
your life and resort to art as an escape. That's what art 
was for me to begin with, at the beginning. 
MASON: When you did your installation at the Brockman 
Gallery, that was in '71, and people were really moved by 
it. How would you compare what you were trying to do then 
with what Kienholz was trying to do at that time? 
PURIFOY: Well, actually I've never been satisfied with 
little things that hang on the wall. That's how I started 


out, because that was the best way I could express 
myself. I didn't even have an easel. I worked on this 
thing for a week or two lying flat on the table, and I 
never really saw it until I hung it up one day. I thought 
it was finished, so I hung it up. And I was bowled over 
with the idea that I could transfer my ideas from my head 
to a board, but it never satisfied me as an expression. I 
just thought there was some absence, some lacking in it. 
As a result of that opposition to flat stuff hanging on the 
wall, I went to the environment. It was a likely place to 
go. That was my thinking all along, and still is. That 
accounts for this piece out here. 

The pieces at Brockman were the first and the last 
environmental pieces I made until I came to the desert. It 
was probably more gratifying than anything else I've ever 
done, also, and the least creative. 

MASON: Could you describe it? Because I've never seen any 
photographs of it anywhere, just a few verbal records. 
PURIFOY: Yeah, I have a tape of it, I think. Somebody 
filmed it. No sound, but-- Yeah, I've got sound, I 
think. I will attempt to find it before this is over with. 

It was a one-room apartment in the upstairs section of 
the Brockman Gallery. Here's the bathroom, and here's the 
kitchen, and the rest of the space was allocated to the 
bedroom. So there was one bed here, and the rest of the 


space was lined with pallets--that is, mattress on the 
floor and blankets and whatnot. The whole place was 
treated. The walls were treated with torn wallpaper and 
old photographs of black people and pictures of Jesus 
Christ, implying the religious overtones. There were ten 
of these pallets on the floor with mannequins in them, 
covered over with blankets. Here were people lying on the 
floor--the so-called members of the family--and you just 
saw the shape of the person because they were mannequins on 
mattresses. I got all this from the junk pile. 

But in one bed was a male and female, called mother 
and father, and baby. The mother and father were having 
sex while the baby watched on. These figures were animated 
to move up and down. They were also covered with blankets, 
so you could just see the movement up and down, that's what 
you could see. On the nightstand beside the bed were 
liquor bottles and whatnot, like what people engage in in 
their waking hours. Somewhere was a television splattering 
at midnight with no picture, just sound. Somewhere was a 
radio spieling out sound simultaneously with the TV, as is 
evident among poor or black people. In the kitchen here 
was a sink and the kitchen table with chairs. There were 
roaches crawling on the kitchen table and evidence of rats 
around. A refrigerator that had an astounding odor when 
opened. This was the entrance. People would come to the 


door and fall back, for the most part. [laughter] They 
couldn't endure the reality of what was going on. The 
bathroom was also fetid, in every regard. I didn't 
overlook any aspect of a whole apartment, so to speak, in 
trying to give it the very essence of poverty and the way 
black people live. So therefore, it wasn't creative as 
such. It was a duplication of what was real. 
MASON: This was what you had seen while you were a social 
worker . 

PURIFOY: Yeah, during my course. Now, during the 
reception we had black-eyed peas and corn bread. I made it 
myself. The music that was going was my voice singing the 
hymns and whatnot. The tape was going all the time, and it 
was really a great scene. [There was] very little light in 
there. Just enough to show off what was going on, more or 
less. There was a passageway right through the kitchen to 
the back end, where people would go through and come out 
somewhere. Few people milled around. Few. But some 
did. But most people came to this point- - 
MASON: Yeah, the entrance. 

PURIFOY: --and went back thataway. Now, this was 
extremely effective, because it was an absolute truth. I 
wasn't trying to communicate anything more than what was 
real, what was happening. If anybody had any deep feelings 
about poverty, it was unintentional. That is to say, it 


was just my privilege--instead of prerogative--to show 

And, of course, I express my appreciation to Alonzo 
[Davis] for giving me the exhibit and all, but he behaved 
just like everybody else, in a way. In other words, I 
expected somebody to help me move the refrigerator up there 
at least, you know--up those stairs. Everybody was anxious 
to see it complete. Nobody came to observe the 
installation. They wanted to see it complete. In other 
words, Alonzo stayed out himself and kept other people out 
until it was all finished. 

It was rather gratifying. I don't know how successful 
it was, with one exception. People still remember that 
exhibit today. You know, that's part of the essence of art 
is that aspects of it--seeing with the eye and recognizing 
with the mind- -are a permanent experience, unforgettable 

This in itself was incomplete. There was another part in 
my mind to put with this, and that's Extreme Object D-E-D . 
Where these people are having sex and having a ball up 
here, downstairs I had hoped to have two white people 
sitting on the side of the bed opposite each other, staring 
out in space, with the space all decorated with French 
Provincial and whatnot and a Rolls Royce parked on the 
outside. William Wilson, the art critic, his comment was 


that he'd never seen this kind of exhibit before in all his 
experience. That's what he wrote about it. It's in one of 
those articles you probably have. He said the only thing 
that was absent was the rest of the exhibit that I intended 
to present. I didn't know how he knew that, but that's the 
statement he made. That the only thing absent about the 
whole exhibit was that the opposite wasn't on display--you 
know, the elite part. For years I had hoped to do that 
exhibit over with this whole thing, but finally I abandoned 
it because I abandoned art in the interim. [tape recorder 

MASON: Okay, there's something that you wanted to add 
about the exhibit. 

PURIFOY: Yeah. It was meant for black people. It was my 
continuous zeal to communicate to black people some idea 
about who they were really, with the hope that they could 
manifest some change in their general conditions and 
status. That's really inherent in the title. Niggers Ain ' t 
Gonna Never Be Nothin'--All They Want To Do Is Drink + 
Fuck. Now, the blacks that I've interrelated with most of 
my life know nothing else other than what I described 
here: all the poverty and how you escape it by drinking 
and having sex. What I meant to communicate was that 
there's more to life than that. I don't know to what 
extent the people whom it was meant for got to see it. 


because they don't come to the Brockman Gallery. But 
that's to whom it was directed, and that's part of my 
original premise, to communicate to my own people what I 
think they need to know in order to better themselves. 

In Watts-- That was my idea, not of bettering Watts, 
but to get the hell out. You know, find some means by 
which you can get the hell out of here and go somewhere 
else where you can be influenced by some other elements, 
because you'll never improve yourself here. That was my 
idea of bringing to the black public a reminder of "This is 
either where you are or where you're going." Being on 
welfare and whatnot is-- There's a better life than that. 
"From one generation to another, you know, you've always 
been on welfare. Well, this is where that leads to." Now 
it's drugs, so my prediction was quite correct. I was 
concerned also about the school dropout problem, a whole 
bunch of problems, as a result of this exhibit. But this-- 
no matter who saw it--gave me the opportunity to express 
what I'd been feeling. That's all I can think to say right 
at the moment. Could be more later. 


SEPTEMBER 9, 1990 

MASON: Right now I want to finish up talking about your 
post-Chouinard [Art Institute], pre-Watts [Towers Arts 
Center] years, because you were saying yesterday that even 
though you didn't feel that you were an artist, you were 
still trying to find out what was going on in the art scene 
in L.A. and that you were going to galleries on La Cienega 
[Boulevard] . I just wanted to ask, what kinds of things 
did you see that made an impression on you in the 
galleries? Were there any black artists in the galleries, 
or did you--? Well, I'll just leave it at that, 
[laughter] You can start there. 

PURIFOY: I wasn't particularly impressed with anything. I 
just wanted to be knowledgeable about what was happening in 
Los Angeles. I'm trying to [recall], through 
interpretation of who I thought I was at the time, what was 
my idea and attitude toward what I was looking at. Was I 
primarily interested in art in order to be intelligent 
about what was happening, or was I really interested in 
becoming an artist at the time? Working at department 
stores, being a window trimmer, was reasonably 
gratifying. I was receiving a fairly good salary, and I 
was treated well on the job. I had twelve suits, and I 
wore a different one every day. I was doing pretty good, I 


thought . 

But vacation time came one year, after being there for 
nine years, and I felt comfortable at home fidgeting around 
the newly decorated studio with nothing in it. So I 
started working on some collages, which was something that 
I enjoyed doing, I thought. After a while I decided I 
didn't want to go back to work, so I called and said that I 
wanted another month's leave. They said if I didn't come 
back I was fired. So I got fired. I'd saved some money in 
the savings plan at the Broadway, so I thought I'd spend 
all my money just hanging around the house and trying to 
fiddle with art and so forth. Fortunately, a friend of 
mine moved from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., and left 
me all of his art equipment, including the easel. 
MASON: Who was that? Was this John Smith, the designer 
that befriended you? 

PURIFOY: I'll have to think up his name and tell you 
later. But anyhow, that gave me the impetus to actually 
begin to do art, because I had some equipment to work 
with. So I started out by doing collages. I was 
reasonably pleased with what I was doing. 
MASON: What did the collages look like? 

PURIFOY: They had African overtones. An abstract figure 
of a warrior with spear and shield was the first one I 
did. The second one I did was oriental. The third one I 


did was something else and something else. It kind of 
represented a universal concept of what I call an art 
motif. The reason I did an African motif is that it just 
occurred to me to do an African motif. It didn't 
particularly have anything to do with my being black as 
such, except I wanted to express in art I thought at that 
time--that early time--the universal conscience, which has 
enabled me to do something in African and oriental and so 
forth. The second year the money ran out, so I started 
doing janitorial work at nighttime in order to have my 
daytimes to work in. And by that time I got called to 
Watts, I think. [tape recorder off] 
MASON: This is 1964? 

PURIFOY: Yeah, I think so. You asked me how did the 
pieces look, and I had begun to describe how they looked in 
terms of essence. But more specifically, I had utilized 
found objects. So the very first things I made as 
collages-- Or actually not collages as such. They were 
assemblages made of found objects. In the case of these 
first pieces, they were small objects that seemed to 
represent what I wanted to represent, such as the shield, 
the spear, and all, and the African motif and everything. 
They were objects that looked like a shield or a spear, 
etc. , as was the case in most of my things over the 
years . 


I mentioned yesterday about how the Watts Towers 
Coitunittee [Conunittee to Save Simon Rodia's Towers in 
Watts], who owned the Watts Towers, had employed a person 
to go to Watts and try to create some happenings around the 
Watts Towers. Her name was Eve Echelman, and she heard 
about me. I went out and thought it was okay if I started 
working there. There was another person in the community, 
who was, I think, teaching school in one of the elementary 
schools, whose name was Sue Welch. Sue Welch and I began 
to explore the community in terms of designing an art 
program in a house that was rented by the Watts Towers on 
107th Street, just a stone's throw from the towers 
themselves. We worked for weeks on end trying to recruit 
youth to come to the towers to experience the programs that 
we were going to design. So after many weeks and on to 
months, we had designed a program utilizing all of the 
resources that we could find, such as the youth programs, 
and there were some moneys to support art programs. 
MASON: State money? 

PURIFOY: Yeah, state and federal dollars. We wrote 
proposals to get these moneys, both as salaries for our 
people and for equipment and so forth. I also ran across a 
person who gave a lot of assistance, whose name is Judson 
Powell. So Judson Powell, Sue, and myself became the team 
to create an art program in Watts. Eve Echelman did not 


participate in creating the program. She left the 
community for points east and returned in about a year to 
see how well we had made out. 

I'd like to say that I founded the Watts Towers Arts 
Center, which it eventually became, but considering the 
help I had in Sue Welch and Judson Powell and Eve Echelman 
and others, it was a group effort, I would say. Rather 
than single-handedly having created an art project, I would 
say that I was a cofounder of the Watts Towers art 
school. Considering it is still in existence--and run by 
John Outterbridge now and has been for years- -I would say 
that it was definitely a group effort that made that little 
school possible. 

We had two full-time teachers, whose names were Debbie 
Brewer and Lucille Krasne. We had programs designed for 
kids from age four to late teenagers. The young kids would 
come in the morning--those particularly who weren't going 
to school--and stay till about nine or ten o'clock, where 
they had drawing and painting, finger painting, and so 
forth. In the late afternoon, the youths would come from 
the general elementary and high schools. After a while, we 
created such a vital program that we were actually bulging 
at the seams. The little children oftentimes did not want 
to go home when it was time to go home, and we had to 
escort them. They were kids mostly from the immediate 


community or 107th Street and elsewhere close by. We also 
recruited kids from the schools, and they came for 
workshops during school hours. So we were rather busy, for 
the most part. Judson and I maintained the facilities, 
while Debbie and Lucille conducted the workshops. 

We utilized found objects to teach with. Oftentimes 
we'd take the children on trips to pick out objects-- junk 
and etc. --and bring it back to the towers, to the art 
center, to do assemblages and collages and so forth. We 
were interested in ascertaining if the children were 
interested in utilizing objects as applied to some form of 
learning. We learned that it was rather natural and 
instinctive for the kids to assemble and disassemble an 
object, with the idea of counting the parts and so forth. 
So this was a profound discovery for us, which put us onto 
a direction which we did not anticipate. That is to say, 
art education. [tape recorder off] 

MASON: Let's go back to the beginning. Now, who is Eve 
Echelman exactly? Was she a part of--? Was this project to 
go into Watts to work with the community part of the 
California Arts Council, do you know? I mean, why did 
somebody get the idea all of a sudden that they wanted to 
go to Watts and work with the community in ' 64? 
PURIFOY: Well, as I said before, the Watts Towers 
Committee had bought the Watts Towers from a man to whom it 


was left after Simon Rodia took off. He left it in charge 
of someone in Watts and went up north somewhere. So a 
group of people in Los Angeles formed a committee to 
purchase the towers, and that they did. They already had 
something of a class going on at the towers, an open-air 
project of some nature, where the kids would gather around 
and they would do finger painting and collages. But the 
towers wanted a more sophisticated program than that, so 
they hired Eve Echelman, who was an astute person in 
organizing and so forth, to see if she could come to Watts 
and drum up some people who could create an art school . 
And that she did. 

MASON: You said she heard about you. Do you know how she 
heard about you? 

PURIFOY: Yeah. I was unemployed at the time, meaning that 
I was sitting around with art at home, and I was ready to 
do a project of this nature. So therefore I accepted 
responsibility to do the project. 

MASON: Now, what about Judson Powell and Sue Welch? Were 
they both artists or what were their backgrounds? 
PURIFOY: Judson Powell was a musician, and Sue was a 
school teacher. They were just people available who agreed 
to work on the project with me. I didn't care whether they 
were artists or not. That wasn't my concern. My reason 
for selecting them was, first, they were available and. 


second, they were dependable and, thirdly, I figured we 

could work as a team. At the time I wasn't too 

discriminating regarding who I got to work, because 

actually there was no money as such to pay them with, 

except promises. So I figured if we were successful at 

organizing our school, there would be moneys to be paid. 

Eventually they were [paid], and so was I. 

MASON: So you only worked with Judson Powell in this 

capacity, or was he a personal--? 

PURIFOY: Oh, he said-- He asked me-- Judson was a 

musician. I think I mentioned that. What was the 

question, again? 

MASON: Was that your only relationship, or were you also 

friends outside of the Watts project? 

PURIFOY: Yeah, we were best friends. And so was Sue. 

Best friends. I don't think I could have selected a better 

combination of people to design this project. I was 

surprised at their determination to work to make it 

successful, because generally when somebody comes to work 

on somebody else's idea, they have a tendency to do what 

you say to do and that ' s about all . But these people had a 

great deal of enthusiasm for the project, and they 

contributed greatly toward its success. 

The school became very popular for one reason or 
another. Maybe because it was in Watts, I don't know. But 


it attracted a lot of people. Among them was an educator 
called Ron [Ronald H.] Silverman. He was an artist and an 
art educator and a research person, so he solicited a grant 
from the government to do a study on black youth to 
determine-- What was his objective? Let me check that 
out. [tape recorder off] I don't recall the objective of 
the program, but it had to do with the learning process 
connected with art education of some nature. This I'll 
find out later. The name of the project was "The Aesthetic 
Eye," and that was around 1950. I'm sorry I don't have the 
correct date here. They have August 1976 here, but the 
project was actually done in 1964, or begun in 1964. So 
we'll have to straighten that out if there's any problem 
with that. 

MASON: You said that suddenly you found out about 
children's creative abilities or their abilities to learn 
through education. There's a quote, "Education through 
creativity is the only way left for a person to find 
himself in this materialistic world." That was one of your 
quotes from an article about the Watts Towers Center. So 
in other words, you weren't trying to train kids to be 
professional artists. You were trying to train them simply 
to express themselves, or what precisely was the--? 
PURIFOY: Well, as a rule, black kids, particularly poor 
black kids, have low self-esteem, a low self-image. The 


object here was to raise the self-image. We believed that 
an art experience was transferable to other areas of their 
activity and so forth and that if they could come to the 
towers and have a good experience, a positive experience, 
they could take this experience with them wherever they 
go. It improved their self-image, and this would make a 
great deal of difference in terms of their ability and 
capacity to grasp whatever the objectives were, whether it 
was in school or out of school . Does that answer your 

MASON: Yeah, that's fine. Well, we can talk about the 
Watts riots that happened in August of '65, how you 
experienced that and maybe things you remember leading up 
to the riots. 

PURIFOY: I want to inject here something of interest. I 
attended a conference in Maryland--or Washington, D.C., as 
the case was--on art education. It was the first 
conference held by the NEA [National Endowment for the 
Arts] back in 1964. I don't have all the data on that, but 
I want to brush up on that for next time, if we can go back 
to it. 

MASON: Okay. 

PURIFOY: I'll just inject it right here because it 
interrelates with this "Asthetic Eye" art program that Ron 
Silverman did. He was instrumental, I believe, in having 


me attend this NEA conference in Washington. So I'll write 
a note to myself to refer to that next time. 

The center of the Watts riot was on 103d Street, and 
the Towers Arts Center was on 107th Street. Between the 
towers and 103d Street were very few structures. In other 
words, the view from the towers, or from the arts center, 
as the case was, to 103d Street, where the event took 
place, was clear and unobstructed. We could see clearly 
what was happening on 107th Street. 

Not only could we see clearly what was going on over 
there, the looters came right down by the towers with their 
booty on their way to their homes. So we were fairly close 
to what was happening. We did not have to go to 103d 
Street to see what was going on. We could experience this 
from our back door of the Watts Towers Arts Center. The 
students at the towers--particularly the adolescents-- 
participated in the riot. Most everyone did. They would 
loot and stash their loot in and around the art center. We 
permitted that, because this was an extremely unique 
experience, and we thought that at least the kids were 
still interested in what was happening at the center. 
Merely because they brought the loot there was a fact that 
this became a place for them, a center for them, a refuge, 
so to speak, for them. So we did not discourage it, simply 
because we were interested in actually what was going on. 


and they could bring us news of the events. 
MASON: When you say you could see it, what did you see 
exactly? Just people running, or what was the--? Was it 
something that just exploded all of a sudden, or do you 
remember anything leading up to it? I mean, did you 
realize at first that something really awful was happening, 
or did it just seem like something that may be--? I mean, 
what were the sort of first impressions of the riot? 
PURIFOY: Well, my impression was that it was certainly a 
most devastating event. Had there been just looting, that 
would have been one thing. But there was not only looting, 
there were huge fires, smoke that permeated the whole 
community. Those were the sights that we saw from our back 
door. We saw police policing the place, firemen trying to 
put out the fires unsuccessfully. We saw crowds and crowds 
of people running to and fro. For what reason, now, you 
know-- It's just that everybody was excited, and everybody 
was participating in the event. Very few people did not 
participate. Very few people stood on the sidelines to 

This went on for over a week. And 107th Street, near 
the Harbor Freeway-- And the freeway was cluttered with 
cars and police. Later, military troops were brought in to 
subdue the riot. But none of us worked the first week. 
The community was making Molotov cocktails and throwing 


them at the police and at the buildings and everything. 
They were buying nails and tacks from the hardware store 
and strewing them on the street to prevent the police and 
other motor vehicles from coming into the area. So 
actually, the authorities did not know how to handle the 
event. It was a unique experience for everybody 
involved . 

By the second day, the newspapers were full of events 
harking back to the possible cause. As it is well known, 
the police stopped two people on the freeway and started 
molesting them in one way or another, and other people got 
involved. So that's actually what started that. But once 
the hotbed of poverty-- And my idea was that it was brewing 
all the time without us knowing it. There had been an 
underground movement such that had there not been an event 
that occurred on the freeway that night, there possibly, in 
my own opinion, would have been a riot anyhow, because the 
people were extremely dissatisfied with conditions. 
Poverty money was in the community, but it was mostly 
designed to keep the natives quiet, as the case was, or as 
the rumor was . 

MASON: What is this underground movement? 
PURIFOY: Certain revolutionary persons in the community 
were already talking riot. It would occur. So this was a 
mere vehicle to enable them to implement their own ideas. 


The [Black] Muslims, who are present today in Watts-- To 
what extent they participated is not specific in my mind at 
the moment, but SNCC [Student Nonviolent Coordinating 
Committee] was there. There was general unrest. I don't 
think the [John A.] McCone report [ California Governor's 
Commission on the Los Angeles Riots (1965)] in any way did 
justice to what was going on, because they actually did not 
know. It was only the few people who were on the inside 
and were knowledgeable about what was happening prior to 
the riot and what stimulated it as it progressed. 
MASON: Now, what about the "66 Signs of Neon"? How was 
that conceived, and what was your objective in assembling 
that work? 

PURIFOY: In late 1964, I broke my leg at the Watts 
Towers. I was unloading--or helping to unload--an object 
that we were going to put on display, a large wooden object 
of a description I don't quite remember. But I broke my 
leg, and I was laid up for six weeks. It was an extremely 
profound experience, because everybody rallied round, and 
while I was in the hospital-- It was really a great 
experience to have old friends renew their acquaintance and 
make new friends at the same time. I recommend that during 
the course of a lifetime everyone should break his left leg 
below the knee. 

While I was laid up, the Watts Towers had an inkling 


that they weren't quite satisfied with my attitude 
regarding what should be going on at the Watts Towers Arts 
Center. They wanted a more sophisticated program. Their 
more sophisticated art program was to include people 
outside the community, kind of an art school where people 
come to matriculate, you know. They wanted to be known as 
something profound, some advanced art school of some 
echelon, I don't know what. It made me very unhappy about 
their attitude, because they didn't fully realize that that 
was Watts. That you can't get to know a community by 
having a sophisticated arts school there that did not 
include the community. So I thought they were dead wrong, 
and I argued with them for hours on end regarding that. 
But they seized an opportunity to think of dismissing me 
when I broke my leg. So when I returned, there, kicked up 
on the desk, wearing a pair of crutches, I found that they 
had put a person in my place there in my stead, without 
announcing who she was or what she was doing there. It was 
up to her to edge me out, as the case was. 

So I kind of got the idea that it was time to leave 
anyhow. We'd had a very successful two years there. We 
had many extremely interesting projects including the whole 
community, one of which was outstanding in my mind, where 
we painted all the houses on 107th Street. We collected 
the paint from the paint stores, and the kids donned their 


work clothes, and we invited people from outside the 
community to come and help and so forth. After painting 
all the houses, we washed the street down and had a party 
that night and everybody came. The whole community came. 
The streets were so crowded we had to spend most of our 
time directing traffic. For the open house, as we called 
it, we erected a mural outside with some painting and 
sculpturing and whatnot. That was the highlight of my 
experience there, an extremely profound experience. But I 
had a tendency to want to create things and move on, so I 
accepted the towers' recommendation that I should retire. 

That gave me the idea that the junk that we collected - 
three tons of junk that we collected that was in the back 
of the Watts Towers Arts Center- -was something to be 
utilized. So we began to think about having an art 
exhibition. It was at the Markham [Junior] High School, 
just a stone's throw from the Watts Towers Arts Center, 
where we gave our first arts festival. That was in the 
spring of 1965. 


SEPTEMBER 22, 1990 

MASON: You wanted to talk about the conference that you 
attended in Gaithersburg, Maryland, called "Arts and the 
Poor." I don't know what you wanted to say specifically 
about the conference, but you said it tied into your 
experience at the Watts Towers [Arts Center] and your 
development of an art education program for the Watts Towers, 
PURIFOY: Yeah. Ron [Ronald H.] Silverman--! think he was 
professor at Cal State, L.A. [California State University, 
Los Angeles] --was instrumental in getting me invited to 
Maryland to the first NEA [National Endowment for the Arts] 
conference, where we discussed art and the poor. It was a 
week-long conference that included educators from all over 
the country. There wasn't anything profound concluded as 
such, except that Ron Silverman a couple of years later 
received a grant to make some studies at the Watts Towers. 
I derived a great deal from it simply because it was 
my first experience at rubbing elbows with high-powered 
educators and art educators. I was already interested in 
art education, because I had a feeling that blacks like 
myself really didn't necessarily relate to art. It was 
removed from their experience. Although blacks have some 
profound characteristics in that they have depths of 
feeling, this is not applicable to anything at all. 


Primarily, it was exercised in their spiritual life, rather 

than any other experiences. 

MASON: Do you remember some of the people that you 

interacted with, that you met there, that left you with any 

kind of impression? What do you feel overall that the 

conference--? Do you think it accomplished what it tried to 

accomplish or do you think things were maybe not well 

defined enough to accomplish anything? 

PURIFOY: It was a new subject. I don't think heretofore 

it had been-- There had never been a conference on such a 

subject as this. I'm trying to think of a name of someone 

else whom I've met there that left an impression on me, but 

I can't recall anyone for the time being. Maybe later. 

MASON: Actually, I have a quote. I found a pamphlet in 

the library that talked about this conference, and I read 

that — 

PURIFOY: Oh, Katherine Bloom. Some of the directors there 

were impressive, one of which was Katherine Bloom. I think 

she was head of arts and humanities for the federal 

government at the time. 

MASON: Well, you're quoted in this pamphlet they put 

together about the conference. I don't know if you've ever 

seen it. It was put out by the government. 

PURIFOY: What year? 

MASON: It must have been '67. Does that seem right? 


PURIFOY: I think the conference was in '67, so it's '66. 
Or was it before the [Watts] riot? I think the conference 
was-- I don't know about that. 

MASON: Yeah, I think it was in '67. You're quoted as 
saying, "The whole point of the conference was or ought to 
be the salvation of the world, not just the poor, through 
self-affirmation on the part of the nominal giver, the 
artist or teacher, and the nominal receiver." 
PURIFOY: I forgot about that. 

MASON: Oh. [laughter] Is that something that you would 
still agree with today, that that should have been the 
point of the conference? 

PURIFOY: Yeah. I've changed radically since then, of 
course, but I still feel that it's-- To direct art at the 
poor is prejudiced, the same as [acting as] though it belongs 
to the elite. That's a form of prejudice also. I don't 
think they meant it to be, because they were sincere about 
finding some means in education to stimulate poor people. 
But they weren't aware that art is about the last thing that 
poor people get to. They weren't aware of that. Just like 
psychotherapy, which I experienced at the mental hospital in 
Los Angeles. Blacks cannot utilize psychotherapy because 
it's long-term, and blacks are more susceptible to change in 
short-term experiences rather than long-term experiences. 
MASON: So as far as their using art, do you think that 


they were trying to--well, maybe some of the people, not 
everybody, but some of the people involved in the 
conference- -use art somehow in the ghettos to make poor 
people conform to some kind of social norm? Is that what 
you're saying? 

PURIFOY: Not these people. They were really sincere about 
the dropout problem, basically. That's one of the problems 
of the poor. No, I have the utmost respect for their 
sincerity. However, they were white people and they were 
just misguided, that's all. 

MASON: Okay. In our last session, we started to talk 
about the beginnings of "66 Signs of Neon, " and you 
mentioned your leaving the Watts Towers [Arts Center] , the 
incident about breaking your leg, and how they kind of took 
advantage of your being in the hospital . What happened to 
the people you were working with. Sue Welch and Judson 
Powell? Did they continue to work there when you left? 
PURIFOY: Yeah. They weren't fired. They continued to 
work there for several years. We organized Joined for the 
Arts in Watts and did the [Watts Summer] Festivals, though 
he [Powell] wasn't employed by the Watts Towers Committee 
any longer. 

MASON: What is Joined for the Arts? What kind of 
organization was that? What were your goals and who 
belonged to it? 


PURIFOY: Well, there wasn't a steady membership, 
actually. It was an idealistic concept. Our goal was to 
build an arts center there on 107th Street, which was 
eventually done. But in the interim, we started to manage 
"Signs of Neon." We had collected three tons of debris 
after the riot. We fashioned it in some kind of a 
sculpture and whatnot. That's why we solicited the aid of 
six other people. We didn't feel that our expression alone 
would be sufficient to communicate through the debris. So 
we invited some other artists to come in and cart away some 
of the junk and make something for the first festival, 
which was at Markham [Junior] High School. 
MASON: What were some of the first pieces that you and 
Judson made before you called in the other artists? 
PURIFOY: We hadn't made anything. This was a part of the 
original plan. We just sat down and talked about it and 
said, "Here's all the stuff. We've got the time to do it 
in because we aren ' t working for the towers anymore . What 
would you like to do?" We decided that we'd call in some 
more people. Among them were Arthur Secunda, Gordon 
Wagner- - 

^4AS0N: Max Neufeldt? 

PURIFOY: Yeah, Max Neufeldt and Debbie Brewer and two 
others there in the magazine. You can get the names out of 
the magazine. 


MASON: Do you want to look through that as we talk about 


PURIFOY: Okay. [tape recorder off] The artists were--in 

addition to the ones I named- -Leon Saulter and Frank 

Anthony. Those were the six, I believe. 

MASON: How did you decide on them? Were they friends? 

PURIFOY: I don't recall. I don't recall how we came up 

with these names. 

MASON: No, but I mean you must have seen their work 

before. You know, like Gordon Wagner's work? No? 


PURIFOY: [laughter] Well, I guess we must have. These 

were people who had a reputation for utilizing found 

objects, and these were most certainly found objects. 

Junk-art sculpture is utilized mostly as assemblage. 

Assemblage was very popular at the time. Well, not very 

popular, but popular. Since then, it's become extremely 

popular and preferable. But at that time, we were kind of 

exploring new territory. Of course, the concept was 

developed at the beginning of this century by Picasso and 

Braque and others. The period was called dada, if you 

recall. The history most certainly would include the 


MASON: Were you studying that at the time? Because 

before, you said that you were interested in art history 


and kind of familiarized with that. 

PURIFOY: I had already graduated from an art school. 
MASON: Right. You went to Chouinard [Art Institute]. 
PURIFOY: So I was reasonably intelligent about art 
history. This period particularly appealed to me because I 
basically was a craftsman. It's allied with craftsmanship 
in wood and metal . 

MASON: Is there anything specific about a found object 
that has kind of been used and you're recycling it? Is 
there something specific about junk that appeals to you 

PURIFOY: Yes, yes. First, it's easily accessible. It's 
available, and that's for certain. Everything is 
recyclable here. But in large cities, junk is not often 
disposed of in junk piles, so to speak, at garbage dumps. 
It's exposed out oftentimes in communities that don't care. 
MASON: Like Watts, for example. [laughter] 
PURIFOY: In Watts it was extremely accessible. Number 
two, it relates to poor people. Wherever there are poor 
people, there's piles of junk. People bring the junk 
there. In Watts, there were mounds of scrap metal all over 
the place and defunct foundries where there were piles of 
metal and junk. Garbage day was a time when people put 
their trash out, but it was often not picked up, and so it 
stayed there for weeks. In some places, there was no 


pickup at all. People would buy furniture and household 
appliances cheaply, but they had to throw it away before 
they got it paid for. So these are characteristics of poor 
people which made it a haven for me- -one who collects 

There's something else about objects that appeals to 
me--it stimulates my imagination. I can think to do 
something with it, turn it into something else other than 
what it was originally designed for. 

MASON: Do you feel like you're elevating the object to 
art? Elevating junk to the level of art? Is that the way 
you look at it? 

PURIFOY: Well, Marcel Duchamp founded the concept of "as 
is," You're familiar with that, no doubt. "As is," I 
think, makes the assemblage legitimate, because many things 
that are designed for use--household use and so forth--are 
excellent shapes to look at, particularly in the early 
American days. People hand made things and contributed a 
great deal of thought to the structure. However, when new 
things come into being, people throw away the old things, 
and these are things that are oftentimes well designed. 
Duchamp recognized this and created the concept of "as 
is." In other words, he had a tendency to display an 
object without doing anything to it and say, "This is okay 
like it is. " 


That also appealed to me in terms of junk art. It 
kind of trickles down from "as is" to junk art, because in 
assemblage I try to enable the article to remain 
identifiable, although it's intertwined with other 
objects. The more it becomes identifiable, the more 
interest I believe is created around the object, the 
complete object d'art. 

^4AS0N: Well, let's talk specifically about some of the 
pieces in "66 Signs of Neon." 

PURIFOY: Okay. The one on the cover here, made of stove- 
pipes and-- 

MASON: Maybe we should identify it. We're looking at Junk 
magazine, which was published by "66 Signs of Neon, " but is 
that just another name for Joined for the Arts in Watts? 
PURIFOY: Well, it was published by us, but it was 
underwritten by American Cement Corporation of Los 
Angeles. There should be a date somewhere here indicating 
when it was published, but I don't see it. 
MASON: That's all right. 

PURIFOY: It's around 1968 or '69. This object on the fly 
sheet, on the front cover, is composed of stovepipes- -two 
joints of stovepipes standing about thirty-six inches tall, 
with a part of a roof of tar paper and tin mounted on its 
peak, on a pedestal. There's a brace--a piece of metal 
brace there--to hold it up. It's called Breath of Fresh 


Air . I don't know why. [laughter] But that's one I did 
first off. 

MASON: Oh, that's the first one you did? 
PURIFOY: I don't know. 
MASON: Oh, okay. 

PURIFOY: When I say "first off," it was among the first 
ones we did. I don't know whether it was the absolute 
first one or not. Turning the page, we come to Sir 
Watts. Sir Watts took on its own identity, and I don't 
think there was anybody who did not like Sir Watts upon 
sight. Some feel that it's done tongue in cheek simply 
because it's called Sir Watts . It was said that I have 
something of a sense of humor about my work. I don't know. 
MASON: Well, that seems poignant in some ways, too, 
because where the heart should be there ' s kind of an 
opening with safety pins coming out, and it's sort of cut 
away. Then for the face there's a purse, which I've seen 
opened in some reproductions, so it seems to be sort of 
saying something about vulnerability, even though it's all 
metal. There seems to be an element of vulnerability about 
it. Is that something that you had in mind? 
PURIFOY: No, it was kind of a tongue-in-cheek object, a 
pun, more or less. I enjoyed doing it. It was something 
that-- The finish on it--on the surface and all--was 
extremely unique, the paint and whatnot. The objects that 


represent the arms and the head and the torso consisted of 
drawers and so forth. Juxtapositions just occurred to me, 
and it worked. It worked quite satisfactorily as a 
representation of the human figure. Naming it Sir Watts 
was the tongue-in-cheek concept that I oftentimes can 

There's an interesting story connected with Sir 
Watts. During my exhibit at the black arts museum 
[California Afro-American Museum] on Expo[sition 
Boulevard] , the curator there was so anxious to find and 
display Sir Watts . I was of little or no help because I 
didn't know where Sir Watts was. She asked me if I could 
make another one, and I flipped out, because it's virtually 
impossible to duplicate junk art. You have to find the same 
objects; you have to be in the same mood. [laughter] And 
I oftentimes chuckle to myself that someone would be so 
naive. [laughter] 

MASON: When you say you don't know where it is, you sold 
it but you didn't keep track of it? 
PURIFOY: That's right, yeah. The U.S. Office of 
Information solicited it once and sent it to Germany. They 
sent it back to the owner, and that's the last I heard of 
it. I wish now I did know where it was, at least to make 
it accessible to the public. 

The next page of the Junk art magazine shows one of 


these what we call "signs of neon." "Signs of Neon" is a 
little confusing unless one is aware of where the exhibit 
got its title from. The exhibit got its title from the 
drippings of neon signs upon the ground, formulating 
crystal-like meltings, mixing with the sand and dirt, 
formulating extremely odd shapes. What Judson and I did 
was simply take the shapes out of the sand, brush them off, 
mount them on something, and sell them. They went like 
hotcakes. Another interesting-- 

MASON: Who were you selling them to? Do you remember? 
PURIFOY: Well, yes. Gregory Peck owns one. He came to 
the festival at Markham in '66. He was then representing 
the NEA, and he participated in some way in deciding where 
the grants go. He ultimately provided a grant for me to 
ship "Signs of Neon" to Washington, D.C. He came to my 
house and brought a lot of people with him who were on the 
committee. That's how he happened to know about the 
exhibit at Markham. 

^4AS0N: I was just wondering who was collecting these kinds 
of pieces then, since you said they weren't as fashionable 
then. I just wondered who would be interested in those 
kinds of things. 

PURIFOY: Well, we had no problem in selling them once 
people understood where the source was from whence it 


Another interesting object on this page is the 
Phoenix . The Phoenix is simply a piece of bent-up metal 
mounted on a twelve- foot pole with a base to enable it to 
stand up. We called it the Phoenix because it looked like 
a bird. 

MASON: Who was this done by? 

PURIFOY: This piece of sculpture on this page [ Max 
Untitled ] --an excellent piece of sculpture, made of heavy 
metal--was done by Max Neufeldt. 

MASON: And this one, the Phoenix , was done by-- 
PURIFOY: The Phoenix was a group effort, Judson and 

MASON: How did that work? Did you guys talk about what 
you wanted to do beforehand? 

PURIFOY: No. We seldom talked about what we wanted to 
do. We would look at an object, segregate it from the pile 
of junk, study it for a while, and say--one of us, more or 
less; it didn't matter which one was first-- "Oh, I know 
what that looks like." And then we'd proceed to assemble 
it. It took only minutes, for the most part. 
MASON: Now, that's by Arthur Secunda. 

PURIFOY: Yeah, this is called City . Arthur Secunda had 
collected many objects embedded in plastic. A very 
interesting concept. 
MASON: All round, many of them. 


PURIFOY: This is called Watts Baby , I think. I don't 
remember. Race Baby it's called, by Ruth Saturensky, who 
was one of the artists that we solicited that I forgot the 
name of. That is the only flat piece I think we had, only 
wall piece. One of the few wall pieces, I'd say. It's not 
the only one. It has photographs of black kids in it, more 
or less, and you could call it a montage, I guess. 

On the next page is a sculpture by Neufeldt called 
Spoons , one by myself called Sudden Encounter - - 
MASON: Is this glass? 

PURIFOY: Sudden Encounter is, yes, a windshield mounted on 
a crosstie upright, with a-- What do you call that? A 

MASON: A flit-gun? 
PURIFOY: Uh-huh. For mosquitos. 

MASON: Oh, I don't know what that is. Was this broken 
glass in any way a reference to Duchamps, his Large Glass 
[ The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even ] or--? 
PURIFOY: "As is"? You see, there are only two objects 
here, so that's as close to an "as is" as I'll ever get. I 
have a big piece of rubber about six inches thick and about 
twenty by twenty square, pure rubber, weighing about 150 

Barrel and Plow was an interesting shape. It's simply 
a beer barrel and a plow, mounted on a table. 


MASON: Oh, so it's stationary. It doesn't move. 

PURIFOY: No, no. 

MASON: Was there any idea that you were trying to--? Maybe 

a reference to your childhood? 

PURIFOY: No. The shape just appealed to me. I oftentimes 

result in pure, unadulterated design, with no overtones 

whatsoever, with no tongue-in-cheek or anything. I prefer 

it. Maybe later we could talk about that in reference to 

some of my protest pieces, if you're interested. 

MASON: Well, I notice that round shapes often appear in 

your work in some significant place. Is the circle 

something that--? 

PURIFOY: No. No. No, it's just a basic shape that I 

often use. 

MASON: It's my imagination. Okay. 

PURIFOY: Yeah. But no particular significance, except 

it's an art form. I mean, it's what artists do. 

MASON: This is The Sink , which is another group effort by 

David Mann, yourself, and Judson Powell. 

PURIFOY: We often did things together because we wanted 

the community to relate to each other. Poor people--and 

particularly black people--have a tendency to not want to 

relate to each other on an equal level. We are inclined to 

be selfish and vindictive, often childlike, as the case may 

be. Children are often cruel. However, I imposed a great 


deal of poverty upon myself to learn about blacks. That 
sounds strange coming from me. But I went to Watts not 
being quite colored. I had a lot of white characteristics. 
MASON: Like what? [laughter] 

PURIFOY: First, I was overeducated . I had three academic 
degrees. And nobody in Watts had a degree hardly, even 
from high school. So in order to understand a community, I 
had to be like them, I thought. I had one pair of shoes at 
the time. I never wore a suit. I didn't own one. 
However, prior to Watts, I had a dozen suits or more. I 
never wore a tie. In fact, I tried to emulate the people 
of Watts in order to understand their plight. Their whole 
direction here is justifiable, so to speak. [People say] 
they're selfish and uncooperative, and we were talking 
about The Sink as a group effort. It is often said that 
blacks spend enough money in America to have their own 
businesses and whatnot, and we can be independent. We 
don't have to depend on white people to assist us. 
Considering how many blacks are on welfare and whatnot, we 
thought the group effort would demonstrate how blacks could 
cooperate with each other and become independent. The 
justification for selfishness is all poor people are 
self ish--it ' s not just blacks--because they're the have- 
nots. When you don't have, you want, and in the wanting 
you oftentimes do not get, and therefore you internalize 


all of this woe and become ostracized. 
MASON: Well, maybe some people would argue that poor 
people-- Maybe not in urban areas. You know, to talk about 
poor in urban areas and in rural areas is to talk about two 
different things. Because sometimes when you think about 
the rural poor, they don't have anything, but it seems that 
they're always willing to share a meal with somebody. 
PURIFOY: Well, overtly that's quite true. On payday-- 
payday meaning when the welfare check comes--the neighbors 
invite me in for a drink of gin early in the morning. 
Despite the fact that I don't start drinking till 
nightfall, I would take a drink in order to be sociable. I 
wanted to win their favor. So in the morning when I'd take 
the children from the center-- (Because they didn't want to 
go home. They liked it at the center so much, till we had 
to carry them home sometimes on our backs.) If the welfare 
check had come, generally mama had a pint of gin on the 
coffee table, and so she was rather generous in offering me 
a drink of gin. I didn't even drink gin, really. I 
preferred bourbon. Yes, however, blacks collect brown 
stamps. They expect to be paid back. So, you see, that is 
not the generosity that we like to feel here. Maybe you 
don't agree with that, where you come from. I'm talking 
about American blacks, American poor. I'm not talking 
about European poor. I don't know what they do. 


MASON: I don't either. 

PURIFOY: But that's where blacks have an excellent 
memory. They remember everything they do for you, and they 
expect remuneration. They expect payback. They'll remind 
you, "Remember I did thus and so? And it's time to pay 
back the favor." So when your check comes-- That's what I 
mean. So, yeah, blacks have a tendency to be generous, but 
for reasons-- Poor people are exactly what it says, poor, 
poor both in spirit and in well-being. 

Oh, yes. We were talking about The Sink and the group 
effort. The group effort was sustained throughout my art 
experience in relationship to doing workshops wherever I 
would go. UCLA heard about the group effort and invited me 
to participate in one of its festivals, where they also 
invited well-known people such as Marcel Marceau and 
Buckminster Fuller. Debbie Brewer was there, Judson Powell 
was there, and several other people, to stimulate the 
building of a large piece of sculpture where any student or 
anybody who comes by can participate. The philosophy of 
group effort is that I pay attention to what you do on your 
side so that I'll balance it off on my side. This 
translated into existence as being that I want to get rid 
of my selfishness. I want to sense my relationship with 
the world at large, you included. 

The last page--second to last page--in Junk art 


magazine is an object called The Train . It's a train 
mounted between a freestanding structure and a lot of 
objects juxtaposed on four sides. It's said to be a piece 
of sculpture with a pipe hanging out the top. It was 
featured in a brochure on the exhibit we had in Washington, 
D.C., in 1969, I believe, '68 or '69. Walter Hopps was the 
curator [of twentieth-century painting and sculpture] of 
the Washington modern art gallery [Gallery of Modern Art] , 
I believe. We showed there in 1959, I believe, or '68. I 
think you asked me earlier to say something regarding what 
effect art had on a community, and I happened to think of-- 


SEPTEMBER 22, 1990 

PURIFOY: Before we went out of state, we exhibited "Signs 
of Neon" at nine universities from '66 to '69. We made 
available to the spectators a pad and pencil to make 
comments. And we kept the comments for years. We had 
stacks of them made by students who either liked or did not 
like the exhibit. The things that we displayed were 
extremely expressive. It isn't particularly evident in 
this magazine, because this magazine shows specific 
objects, specific pieces of sculpture on one page. But we 
assembled the exhibit in a large hall, and it was well done 
and quite colorful and exciting to look at. We always 
entertained crowds of people. I remember particularly at 
[University of California] Berkeley — We were there for 
nineteen days during some of the hottest [most turbulent] 
times on campus. For that reason, and others, no doubt, we 
had crowds of people coming through all the time. When we 
took it to Washington [D.C.], they wanted us to stay there 
and utilize their junk, too, and make sculptures. Of 
course we refused, because we were doing great like we were 
in Los Angeles. 

The last one is Sunflowers , I think it's called, by 
Debbie Brewer. I wanted to mention that, because Debbie 
participated in "Signs of Neon" by making things and 


sending them to us. We sold lots of stuff, we'd send the 
money back, and we would make some more stuff. So we 
always had sixty-six pieces to display, but there were 
different pieces from time to time because we made sales. 
That's how we existed, all six of us. Particularly Judson 
and me. 

We had some horrible-- I would just mention this in 
passing. We never got to show at any of the university 
galleries. We always showed in the student union hall or 
someplace like that. And they had terrible facilities, 
sleeping quarters and so forth. They were just terrible. 
People felt sorry for us because we complained a lot and 
put us up in their homes. I remember particularly, at 
Berkeley, again, a patron from Los Angeles came up and saw 
how deplorable our conditions were, so she put us up at the 
Hilton hotel for a whole week. And we were delighted at 

MASON: Who was that? 

PURIFOY: Lillian Testie was her name. She was the 
daughter of a well-known piano maker. I don't recall which 

MASON: But you say she was an arts patron, so to speak? 

MASON: Why do you think they would bring the show and not 
give you good facilities? 


PURIFOY: They were just concerned about activities, you 

know, rotating activities on campus, that's all. You're 

familiar with that. Anything that they felt would interest 

the students was their job. Where we slept and all was 

secondary to the exhibit. The exhibit was excellent. It 

was really good. A wonderful exhibit, professionally 

done. I was a curator and didn't know it. 

MASON: I just want to ask about one comment that I read. 

When the show went to Washington, there was a reviewer for 

the Washington Sunday Star who said he was really 

disappointed with the show because it didn't evoke for him 

the excitement or the horror or whatever of the Watts 


PURIFOY: The eyes of the beholder. We had the objects 

there. It was just done in such a fashion that it was 

really creative. Every object was extremely conducive to 

creativity. You know, done well. The group we selected to 

do the things were excellent artists. There must have been 

some positive comments. 

MASON: Well, he said that even though it didn't evoke the 

riots for him, his attention was finally drawn to the 

objects as objects, so that's kind of where he left off. 

PURIFOY: That was our intention. 

MASON: Yeah. But he didn't quite get that. 

PURIFOY: We didn't intend to provoke. 


MASON: Because he wanted like a slide show. 
PURIFOY: It wasn't intended to provoke. I didn't have 
that in mind at any rate. I don't know about the other 
two. I don't think we even discussed this. But the pieces 
were so well done, and done in such good taste, that it 
became an assemblage show of terrific art. Everyone said 
that. As mean as I was, I did not care whether people 
reacted in a hostile way or not. We just wanted their 
reaction, that's all. We didn't care. We didn't want to 
excite a riot or anything. That wasn't the object 
whatsoever. But had it excited a riot, you know, so what? 
MASON: Is there anything else you want to add about the 
"66 Signs"? 

PURIFOY: No, I think that just about covers it. But the 
old stuff-- I can't think of any other piece I'd like to 
speak about . 

MASON: Okay. We can talk about the workshops that you 
did, your teaching experience, from '66 through '73, and 
the works that you were doing in that period. 
PURIFOY: The workshops? 

MASON: Well, your teaching experience at UCLA, UC 
[University of California] Davis, Immaculate Heart College. 
PURIFOY: And particularly [University of California] Santa 
Cruz. I was more consistent with Santa Cruz. I was a 
visiting teacher for four years intermittently. I want to 


also mention two people who were extremely instrumental in 
furthering my career. They were Dr. Page Smith and his 
wife Eloise [Smith] . I developed a lifelong friendship 
with them. I was visiting recently. 
^4AS0N: They were both teachers at UC Santa Cruz? 
PURIFOY: Page was the provost there, and he resigned after 
twelve years and took to writing history books. [tape 
recorder off] 

^4AS0N: So we were talking about Page and Eloise Smith at 
Cowell College, right, at UC Santa Cruz? 

MASON: You said they helped your career? How so? 
PURIFOY: We were in San Francisco in 1966, I believe, when 
it was suggested that we go to Cowell College at Santa Cruz 
for some reason or other. I don't recall. But I ended up 
there one evening, and we stayed so late till it was 
suggested that we spend the night . We didn ' t have anywhere 
to sleep, and Eloise, Page's wife, offered to put us up, 
especially me. She got familiar with our philosophy, 
having seen photographs of our work, and ultimately she got 
to see the works herself in Berkeley. She talked Page 
Smith into inviting me to do a workshop at Santa Cruz. We 
did a workshop commemorating their second, third, or fourth 
anniversary from the time the school had opened- -Cowell 
College. It was new at the time. Page had come from UCLA, 


as a historian there, to be the provost at Cowell 
College. That's how I got to meet up with Page and Eloise, 
and they invited me back each year for four consecutive 
years to do a workshop in the spring. 

The workshop consisted of two days a week, and I was 
paid extremely well. It was great. One day a week we 
would do sculpture in Page Smith's garage. (They were 
living on campus. ) And the next day we would have 
classroom discussion of how art related to education. 
MASON: Was this for art majors? 

PURIFOY: No, this was for anyone. So I had two classes a 
week and about thirty students per class. We went into 
some heavy details about art and art education and how it 
interrelates with humans. I was never interested in art as 
a thing in and of itself. So we were talking about art in 
relationship to, but not art per se. The one day we'd do 
art would demonstrate how within oneself there's a creative 
process going all the time, and that it's merely expressed 
in an object called art. But one's life should also 
encompass the creative process. We were trying to 
experiment with how you do that, how you tie the art 
process in with existence. We called it art and 

MASON: Were you working with ideas that you learned at the 
Watts Towers? 


PURIFOY: Yes. It was a carryover. I was primarily 

pushing "Signs of Neon" at the time, so it was convenient 

for me to take out a few weeks or a few months and do a 

workshop in Santa Cruz. 

MASON: We can talk about some of the pieces that you did 

after the "66 Signs of Neon." Do you remember the first 

piece you did after? Or did you constantly use the 

material that you had found there and incorporate it into 

other works? 

PURIFOY: Eventually "Signs of Neon" came back from some 

place or other, maybe Tennessee or Alabama. It got down as 

far as Tennessee, I believe. I don't recall. It's listed 

there, I think, in the resume of where it went down that 

way. I didn't go with it. But from Washington, D.C., the 

exhibit traveled. About 1969 it came back in a truck just 

about in the same shape it was when we found it in Watts, 

in the smoldering embers of the Watts riot. In other 

words, that was the end of "Signs of Neon. " It was back in 

its original state: Junk! 

^4AS0N: I'm sorry. Are you saying that the pieces weren't 

taken care of? 

PURIFOY: Right. Right. 

MASON: Okay, I just wanted it spelled out for slow 

people. [laughter] 

PURIFOY: Oh, no, I just wasn't being too exacting. I was 


trying to be poetic, I guess. [laughter] 

However, there was still some demand for the 
exhibit. Some people wanted to create a black museum or 
something. There was a lot of talk about utilizing an old 
fire station in central Los Angeles to house the exhibit. 
I entertained the idea, because we could always refurbish 
it or whatnot. But nothing ever came of it, so it just 
deteriorated in somebody's garage someplace in Watts. 
That's the last I heard of it. 

Gordon Wagner was concerned about his pieces that 
didn't get sold. I didn't get any flak from Arthur Secundo 
or Neufeldt. I think Ruth Saturensky was a little bit 
unhappy about the condition of her piece, but all in all 
that was just about the end of "Signs of Neon." 

I had to go and do something else, so I gave up art 
and went to work in a mental institution. I said "work, " 
not [be a] patient, work. I got a job at Central [City] 
Community Mental Health Facility [Los Angeles], where I was 
able to utilize my art experiences as well as my degree in 
social service administration. So I experimented with 
utilizing art as a tool for a change, for mental health. 
MASON: Okay, so that was '73 to '76 you did that. 
PURIFOY: From '71 to '75. 

MASON: But before you did that, you had done some other 
work, it seems. I have some things that are dated before 


then, a few untitled pieces of totem with feathers and fur, 
slippers. [tape recorder off] You wanted to talk some 
more about the Watts Summer Festivals. 
PURIFOY: Yeah. Here's a brochure that you might be 
interested in which describes actually how sufficient we 
were and how adequate we were as curators. Here is a 
brochure we did in 1969 or '70, I believe. Inside, there 
are labels for the artist to cut out and paste on their 
works and so forth. It gives you information regarding who 
is eligible, community rules, registration, prize awards, 
sales of works, art auctions, and other categories. 
Usually, I would open up the place where the artists would 
drop their works off two weeks before the exhibit. 

Now, why would I do that two weeks before? Nobody 
else does, of course. Well, first, I had the time, and 
second, it was an excellent opportunity to sit down and 
talk with the artists as they brought their works in and 
see how they were thinking and actually how they were 
doing. So I became familiar with all the community of 
artists by allocating this time before each festival. I 
did this nine consecutive years, and I got very familiar 
with what was going on. Also, we would stimulate the 
artists to do work expressly for the festival. Not only 
did we do that, we went around to all the schools and 
collected works by the students. 


MASON: You mean the art schools or the public schools? 
PURIFOY: Public schools. We also were interested in 
collecting works from anyone, all students. At the time. 
Chicanes only were in East L.A. They weren't all over the 
place like they are now. So we consistently went over 
there and spoke with their teachers and collected their 
works and displayed them. As results of that, we 
stimulated a lot of kids to do art. Oftentimes, the 
teacher would encourage them to do art expressly for the 
festival. So we got to stimulate quite a number of people 
in our community, thus making us really community 
artists. We weren't artists per se, like artists who close 
themselves up in a studio. We really got out on the 
streets, leading the people. 

MASON: What kind of art were you commissioning? Was it 
assemblage art, or did you have any preference? 
PURIFOY: Oh, no. We didn't discriminate whatsoever. Any 
kind of art they brought was great. We had a lot of 
categories, as you see in this brochure. We picked people 
like [John] Outterbridge, Alonzo Davis, and Dale [Davis], 
his brother, to do the judging and whatnot, people that the 
community respected. 

I think calling ourselves community artists harks back 
to the beginning of art in Cleveland, where at the Karamu 
House, as you recall, they were practicing community art 


for years. They were usually associated with other 
activities in a building that was concerned about social 
welfare as well as the health of the community at large. 
And invariably they would include art, both performing and 
visual arts. So I think I took the cue from having lived 
in Cleveland for a while. 

MASON: Oh, you did? Did you know Curtis Tann, who came 
out here? 

PURIFOY: Yeah, he came from Karamu House. So community 
art has a certain belief system. It doesn't believe in art 
for art's sake. So you can imagine the problem one would 
have in an elite community like Los Angeles with this kind 
of belief system. And yet we were consistent with our 
idea. We didn't have any confrontations until we started 
dealing with the [Los Angeles City] Board of Education and 
the state [California] Arts Council, when we were concerned 
with art education and art as a tool for learning. You 
asked a question once about whether or not I influenced the 
artists or the artists influenced me or whatnot. Well, I 
think I was more popular among the artists than I was among 
the patrons, because I always had something to say about 
art. At the time, I recall, we didn't verbalize much about 
art. We insisted that art speak for itself. But my 
attitude toward that concept was that it was elite and that 
poor people could not afford to feel that something was in 


and of itself because of their basic needs and 

dependency. So what I was insisting upon verbally, as well 

as attracted to convey it in my work through the group 

effort, was that it's an elitist concept to feel that art 

is in and of itself art. It is not in and of itself, 

because it interrelates with the world at large. We tried 

to say this in "Signs of Neon." 

MASON: In other words, art as just an aesthetic experience 

isn't enough. It isn't enough to just explore color and 


PURIFOY: It doesn't reach blacks at all. It excludes 

blacks and poor, and it just burned me up. Art is the most 

uncontaminated discipline existing in the world, and there 

was excellent opportunity to interrelate it with even 


MASON: Now, you started a theater group, too, in the 

sixties. How did that work with--? 

PURIFOY: Yeah, because I was interested in theater from 

college. Even from high school, I think. I'm not sure. I 

had a theater group in a little town I worked in called 

Tuscaloosa [Alabama] , and we traveled around the community 

doing theater pieces. So when I went to Watts, I met Steve 

Kent, and he was from Watts. 

MASON: I'm sorry, who was that? 

PURIFOY: Steve Kent. He was a UCLA drama graduate at the 


time. Around the early part of creating the Watts Towers 
Arts Center, Steve was one of the people who came to assist 
us in designing a program. Included was drama. It wasn't 
the kind of drama that you get on the stage- -say your 
piece, bow, and leave. It was improvisation. You know, 
you just create the concept on the spot. I thought this 
was an excellent media to relate to the community, so I 
encouraged it. Steve developed a wonderful theater with 
the young people in the community, as the case was. 
Finally, Steve came to us and said, "You know, we'd like to 
have a theater. I want my own." I said, "Okay, let's do 
it." So we went to Beverly Hills and created a theater. 
MASON: What was in Beverly Hills? 
PURIFOY: A theater. 

MASON: There was a stage, you mean? 

PURIFOY: Improv. Yeah. It was housed on Robertson 
Boulevard in Beverly Hills. We had a lot of help, a lot of 
volunteers. I happened to check here in this book when you 
spoke. It was called the Company Theater on Robertson 
Boulevard in Los Angeles. They had a repertory group and 
they put on two or three plays a year. They also traveled 
to the festival in Edinburgh in 1967. Despite moving out 
of the community, Steve Kent continued to work with the 
Watts Towers Arts Center theater group. The name was 
changed to the Improv Theater, I think, and finally they 


folded up about three to four years ago. 

MASON: So there were young people involved in all aspects, 

then? In set design and costume design? Or was it more 

minimal than that? 

PURIFOY: Well, no. It wasn't that kind of theater. See, 

improv pretends you've got a background, pretends this is a 

bedroom, pretends this is a living room, and there are no 

props. That was the beauty of improv, that the audience 

has to pretend that-- [pointing to photograph] That's Steve 


MASON: Do you remember what kinds of themes people usually 

dealt with? 

PURIFOY: Themes? 

MASON: Yeah, in the skits. 

PURIFOY: Pregnancy, teenage kids' concepts, jealousy, 

intrigue, sex, every subject that teenagers are interested 

in. Oh, I want to mention also, I don't think we could go 

past the improvisational theater unless we mentioned Joyce 

Weddolf, who was a volunteer who assisted the "Signs of 

Neon" and the theater a great deal. She was our resource 

person, publisher, etc. You asked me to name names. I 

just happened to think of that name. 

MASON: Okay. Could we talk about some of your work? 

PURIFOY: Uh-huh. What work? 

MASON: Well, this work after Watts and before 1970. 


PURIFOY: I'm not too clear, except I was working all the 

time. Even when I was working with "Signs of Neon, " every 

time I'd come home, any spare moment, I was doing 


MASON: Was the material still stuff from the riots that 

you had stored, or did you look for new materials to use? 

PURIFOY: No, once we used up that material--and we used it 

all up in "Signs of Neon" pretty much--we had to find new 

sources for found objects, for junk. That's available, as 

I said before, in Watts and other places in Los Angeles. 

As you can see, this [untitled] piece here was made into a 

postcard. Samella Lewis did that [i.e., had it printed on 

a postcard], and that's one of the things that she did 

best, I guess. 

MASON: You said she bought that piece for the Museum of 

African American Art. Or was this for Contemporary Crafts, 

the gallery? 

PURIFOY: No, she bought it for herself to own. She liked 

it, you know, and hung it on her wall. She thought it was 

great. I hung it up for her because it was heavy. 

MASON: Do you remember what kinds of ideas you were 

exploring in this piece? It seems like it was more layered 

than some of your other pieces. 

PURIFOY: What's that word? 

MASON: Layered. Like there are objects on top of one 


another, whereas- - 

PURIFOY: Oh, juxtaposed. Okay, I've got you. Want me to 
say something about that? 
MASON: Yeah. [laughter] 

PURIFOY: Well, as you know, I'm well aware that the 
dadaists utilized juxtaposition like no artists ever did or 
ever will do, no doubt. If you'll recall, the shapes of 
things that came out of that period, both done by Braque 
and Picasso, were a great deal of juxtaposition, one thing 
piled on top of another to create depth, etc. Because what 
they were protesting most of all was perspective, you know, 
drawing in perspective to create depth. They were in 
opposition to that altogether. So in order to achieve 
depth, they would juxtapose one object on top of another 
and therefore achieve depth without perspective. They 
thought it was more honest to do it that way, and so did 
I. So I got that from dada. You'll notice in this piece 
here I did not discriminate. Whatever my hands came to, I 
put it in there. If you can observe, here is an old shoe, 
a shovel -- 
MASON: An umbrella. 

PURIFOY: See the shovel in the left-hand corner here? 
Right here? Here's a handkerchief or a scarf and more 
shoes, more shoes, and wood objects. I didn't have a 
tendency-- The less I discriminated, the more successful I 


became in doing junk art. 

MASON: Well, shoes are an object that reappears in your 
work. Like in these two totems, you have shoes and 
shoehorns, you know, and slippers. 

PURIFOY: They were just accessible. That's what's 
available. I use anything that's available. I think 
that's part of the creative process, that you don't 
discriminate. I do more discriminating now than I ever did 

MASON: I'm looking now at the show that you did with 
Bernie Casey, Betye Saar, John Outterbridge, and Benny 
Andrews, curated by Samella Lewis. You have an untitled 
metal sculpture with kind of an obvious sexual pun, I 
guess. I don't know. It's a kind of anthropomorphic 
shape. What were you trying to convey about sexuality in 
the piece, or what kind of ideas were you--? Because I was 
saying that a lot of your metal sculptures seem to stand on 
legs, which gives them a kind of anthropomorphic quality. 
So how are your metal sculptures--? I mean, besides the 
fact that you're blending the materials together through 
some process, you're-- [tape recorder off] 


SEPTEMBER 22, 1990 

PURIFOY: That piece of sculpture, incidentally, Alonzo 
[Davis] sent it to San Francisco, I believe to participate 
in some kind of metal exhibit. 

MASON: We're still talking about the untitled metal 
sculpture with the phallic symbol or penis attached to it, 
in the show by Samella [Lewis] . 

PURIFOY: Well, I went through a period where I did a lot 
of them. I did some four- foot penises all juxtaposed. 
They never got shown, however, but I did them anyhow, 
papier-mache and whatnot. They were real, you know, 
actually real, four feet tall and ten inches in diameter. 
I think those are the first things that I did with some 
idea of self-expression. Usually, I didn't look at art as 
self-expression. I didn't give a damn. I keep repeating 
that my object was to utilize art as a vehicle to gain my 
self -certainty. But doing those large penises, and 
projecting the one on that piece of sculpture that you're 
looking at, was a discovery of something about me I've been 
saying all the time. This was an introspective exploration 
of an attempt to improve one's inner self. 

I learned that I was sexually precocious, and it 
becomes evident in my long spiel about my childhood. If 
there's anything in art that connects with my childhood, 


it's when I got the nerve to express myself in this way, 
with these large penises. But it was many years after 
that--after making those pieces--that I had the opportunity 
to actually express myself in a more profound physical 
way. One who's sexually precocious turns out to be-- 
whether he or she knows it or not- -erotic. 

So I spent a lot of time thinking about my eroticism 
and trying to overcome, in one way or another, what rode on 
top of it, religion and Christianity. There was no getting 
it off through art, which I can testify to. I did not 
receive any great, lasting gratification from doing art. 
While I was doing it I was thoroughly gratified, but that's 
what's contagious about art: you just have to keep doing 
it to receive the same gratification. That's what becomes 
addictive. However, when I discovered I was precocious, I 
looked around for such a person who was also precocious, 
with the idea of signing a contract. This was the way in 
which I overcame my sexual precociousness, if that's the 
right expression. It wasn't through art. 
MASON: When you say "signing a contract," you mean an 
actual marriage contract? 
PURIFOY: A verbal contract. 
MASON: Oh, okay. 

PURIFOY: A verbal contract. A verbal contract, like "just 
describe to me what satisfies you, and I'll describe to you 


what satisfies me, and let's make an exchange." Two years 
of that enabled me to overcome. I was going to 
pornographic movies up till then. 

MASON: Yeah, well, there was a lot of that in the 
sixties. You know, the free love period and a lot of 
people exploring their sexuality. Did you think that you 
were somehow different from those people? 

PURIFOY: I didn't know about those people. I just knew 
about me. I didn't know why they were doing it. But I 
most certainly took advantage of it. Being the person that 
I am, though, I can't take advantage of a situation without 
compensating for it. At [University of California] Santa 
Cruz, I was thrown in a hotbed of young females, so I took 
advantage of the opportunity, but not without paying it 
back, paying something back in return. 
^4AS0N: You mean to them or to society? 

PURIFOY: To them, to them directly. Being that, you know, 
"I'm available to you anytime you need a shoulder to cry 
on. What are you unhappy about?" Things like that. 
Despite my overtness, I experienced some high spiritual 
times during that time where communication was 
phenomenal. Like an experience I've never had before or 
since, where you don't have to say words to communicate. 
We really were utilizing art at the time to create a 
process to communicate with. And it was extremely 


profound. I can't begin to describe how phenomenal a human 
being we became. I did not think it was possible. It's 
just like getting religion. I described the [episode of] 
Father Divine and the quest for getting religion. Well, I 
finally got it, but not in a Christ-like way, another kind 
of way that I wasn't familiar with whatsoever. It's when 
one soul talks to another and not a word is said, a 
phenomenal state of being. I enjoyed that for a long, long 
time, three or four years. 

MASON: This is when you were still having the oceanic 
experience, or was that a part of it? 

PURIFOY: I don't know if that was before or after. I 
think it was afterward. It was a spillover into-- That was 
the aftermath of the oceanic experience, I'm pretty sure, 
because I'd already had the Watts experience, so the 
oceanic experience phenomenon came during the Watts period. 
MASON: Do you feel like that was the first step, maybe, in 
getting in touch with who you were or who you wanted to be? 
PURIFOY: It was confirmed. It was confirmation. It was 
the absolute certainty that I not only was the person that 
I admired most, but I was indestructible and I would live 
forever. I really believed that. But my life-style 
implied that I was already not of this world, so to speak, 
although indulging in everything common to the world, like 
drinking, smoking, and having sex. But it was done on a 


rather high level of spiritual conununication. Like alcohol 

was an ally. 

MASON: You say it was an ally? 

PURIFOY: Uh-huh. I drank a fifth a day for twenty 

years. It did not make me addicted because I quit cold 

turkey three years ago, three or four years ago, five, 

drinking and smoking. I just started back smoking 

yesterday. I have a glass of wine occasionally, great 

wine. You can buy it for a dollar a bottle here, and it's 

great wine. 

MASON: But it's not Thunderbird, right? 

PURIFOY: Oh, no. It's great wine, blanc de blanc. 

MASON: I asked you about Freudian symbols in your work, 

like the shoe and those things, which sometimes can be 

construed as Freudian fetish objects. 

PURIFOY: No, no, no. I never looked at a shoe as a fetish 

or a phallic symbol. No, never. Shoes are a black man's 


MASON: Why? 

PURIFOY: I don't know. 

MASON: But I mean, what makes you feel that? 

PURIFOY: Well, it's a fact. It's not what I feel, it's a 

fact that shoes-- He can have on overalls, you know, but 

his shoes are patent-leather shined. And Stacey Adams. 

You know, he may not have the next meal, but he's going to 


have some Stacey Adams shoes. That is not generally known, 

but that's fact, that's a fact. Having been born in rural 

USA, I would know. 

MASON: You were saying before that you had at some point 

gone beyond Freud . 

PURIFOY: Yeah, I'd rather go with Carl Jung. He's more 

dependable than Sigmund Freud when it comes to symbols. 

But I don't go for either one of them, because I just never 

dug symbols. If I use them, it's unconscious. I know 

they're important in art, but I just didn't go for it. 

That's a funny way of communicating. I don't know if 

everybody understands what a symbol means. You have to be 

highly intelligent, and I wasn't speaking to intelligent 

people through my art. I was trying to get black folks to 

buy it . 

MASON: The two are mutually exclusive? [laughter] Okay, 

is there any more you want to say about the [University of 

California, Santa Cruz] Cowell College teaching 

experience? Did you say you wanted to say something about 

Beatrice Thompson? 


MASON: Beatrice Thompson. 


MASON: Okay. Then you came to a point where you stopped 

being involved in the arts and-- No, actually we should 


talk about something before that. I wanted to talk about 
the black art shows in the sixties and the galleries just 
overall. What role do you think that the Brockman Gallery 
and Suzanne Jackson's gallery. Gallery 32, and Samella 
Lewis's Contemporary Crafts gallery--? Do you think they 
really had a significant impact on either your career or 
the career of any black artists, in terms of showing people 
that weren't well known or just giving black artists an 
outlet? You said that the Watts Towers [Arts Center] was 
one outlet for black artists to show. 

PURIFOY: One thing I didn't strive for while I was an 
artist was reputation. I didn't want, I didn't need a 
reputation as an artist, except to let it be known that I 
was in fact an artist. And I repeat, art was a vehicle. 
So the black artists' galleries, Alonzo [Davis's Brockman 
Gallery], in particular, did not help my career. You know, 
I wasn ' t concerned about a career in art . That ' s when I 
dropped out. However, he gave me an opportunity to express 
myself through that one-man show. Niggers Ain ' t Gonna Never 
[Ever] Be Nothin' [All They Want To Do Is Drink + Fuck ] . I 
wanted to do that very badly. And visual arts is somewhat 
like performing arts: once you get an idea you have to 
implement it, and you need an audience to tell you if you 
were on the track or not. So that's what that exhibit did 
for me, and he made his gallery accessible to me for that 


show. However, I'd shown there several times before in 
group showings. 

But Alonzo was quite particular about who exhibited 
there. We showed things at the Watts Summer Festivals that 
nobody else would show, including Alonzo. 
MASON: Like what? 
PURIFOY: Like church art. 
MASON: What's that? 

PURIFOY: Folk art. You know. Things that people do for 
church decoration. We called it art, but Alonzo wouldn't 
touch it with a ten- foot pole. But we'd show it. We'd 
show anything you bring us and show it a very prestigious 

I would have to say that the festival linked itself to 
overall community art more than any other particular 
entity. I don't take credit for that so much as I 
attribute it to Tommy Jaquette. To put on the Watts Summer 
Festivals every year for nine consecutive years, at which 
time I participated with the art exhibits-- He had to beg 
me every time, because I was busy doing other things, but 
every time I'd break down and do it. There was no pay, but 
we made these sacrifices in order to do the festivals. So 
we were the major outlet. We went to schools and 
encouraged teachers to have students produce things for us 
for the-- I'd talk to artists every day, "Do something 


professional. Do something unique." They just rallied 

around. Everybody participated, except a few like Curtis 


MASON: You mean Curtis Tann? 

PURIFOY: No, people like that didn't participate, but 

everybody else did. Everybody participated. And a few 

years we took in some art from out of the community, too, 

as well, black and white. 

What else did I want to say about the festivals? It 
was usually six days. And we had problems in Watts because 
of the riots. Nobody wanted to come to Watts anymore. So 
we had to promise them if they'd come they'd be safe. In 
order to make sure they were safe there in the area where 
we were displaying, at the Will Rogers [State Historic] 
Park auditorium, I stood there eight hours a day, six days 
during the week, and made sure there was order. All I had 
to do was turn my head and whatever was happening stopped 
happening. We had absolute order in the auditorium. 
People who were afraid to go to their cars, we would escort 
them to their cars and make sure that they were not 
harmed. Because black people were desperate, you know. 
They'd just come up to you and say, "Give me your money," 
you know, "and let's don't have no bones about it." And 
the cheapest way out is to give them your money. So 
naturally, people didn't want to come, and we had to 


promise them that they'd be safe. So we had good 
attendance, and we sold quite a bit of stuff. As curator, 
we took 10 percent--that's all--of everything sold. 
MASON: Did you show your own work out there? 
PURIFOY: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, I showed "[66] 
Signs of Neon" for several years. It was a wonderful 
experience. I don't regret at all participating in the 
Watts Summer Festivals. It gave me a good feeling that I 
could do that and I could create order where there was no 
order. Absolute order, I mean. I felt good that I could 
command that of the Watts audience. They had respect for 
us, for the artists, because-- 

MASON: Well, you knew most of the young people. 
PURIFOY: We were doing good. We were doing good things. 
MASON: Did you ever show at Suzanne Jackson's gallery or 
Samella Lewis's gallery? 

PURIFOY: There wasn't enough time. She [Jackson] was only 
open a year. It was a nice, clean gallery, but small. But 
a clean, beautiful structure, nice building, whatnot. 
MASON: What about the other black art shows? Like "A 
Panorama of Black Artists" at the [Los Angeles] County 
Museum [of Art] in 1972 and ["Contemporary Black Artists of 
America"] at the Whitney [Museum of American Art] in '71. 
How did you feel about participating in those shows when 
there was so much political controversy around the black 


arts show and what is black art and--? 

PURIFOY: I'm afraid I wasn't there in spirit. I'm sorry, 
I just wasn't there. A lot of things that bother other 
people didn't bother me. I was protected in one way or 
another from all the trauma connected with denial and 
rejection. It didn't phase me. I was busy. I was very 
busy. The peace of mind that involvement brings is just 
phenomenal. I haven't been at that place before or 
since. So I was not there half the time, or half the time 
I was gone somewhere else, cloud nine or someplace. I was 
just having a ball. Life was good. I was exactly where I 
wanted to be, doing exactly what I wanted to do. Absolute 

MASON: Then you said you did some protest pieces then, 


PURIFOY: Yeah, it was tongue-in-cheek, because other guys 

were doing-- It's just like now. I did Tar and Feathers , 

that's one I wanted to mention. That's not complete. The 

feathers on it there-- 

MASON: Okay, in the slide. 

PURIFOY: The pillow hangs off of it, so it's not complete 

in that shot. But I did Tar and Feathers with no serious 

thought of protest. Now, it's expected that a collection 

as big as mine of a hundred pieces is supposed to have one 

protest piece. 


MASON: Because you're black. 

PURIFOY: Yeah. Or something. [laughter] So Barrel and 

Plow was kind of like a protest piece, but not serious. 

I've done one as recently as a couple of weeks ago, but 

only because I was reading about David Hanunond and his 


MASON: What were you reading about? 

PURIFOY: Well, the Malcolm X thing. 

MASON: The Black Emergency Cultural Coalition that was 

going on in New York in the seventies, his connection with 

that? Or something more recent? 

PURIFOY: No, it's the article you read. 

MASON: Oh, in Art in America ? 


MASON: Oh, okay. No, I just saw it. I didn't read it. 

PURIFOY: Oh, okay. It's a great article. David permeates 

the whole book. They've got his picture in there this 

time. I didn't think David would ever get old like me, but 

he did. He finally got old. Suzanne never got old. 

MASON: Suzanne Jackson? 

PURIFOY: Uh-huh. She looks just like she always did, 

beautiful. I saw her last summer, I guess. 

MASON: But you never did any protest pieces in the sixties 

or seventies. 

PURIFOY: Oh, yes. Oh, yes, yes. 


MASON: Oh, okay. What--? 
PURIFOY: I did lots of them. 

MASON: Okay, what did they look like? Well, could you 
talk about the ones that you mentioned. Tar and Feathers 
and Burial Ground , and how they're protest pieces, and then 
how they relate back to the ones that you were doing in the 
sixties and the seventies, or if they do at all. 
PURIFOY: Protest is protest. You have to develop a theme 
that strikes people. Something that's current and 
recognizable by all. Like Malcolm X, everybody knows 
Malcolm X--that's what David did. They eat it up. But I 
want to say something about protest art in general : 
protest art is probably one of the highest expressions of 
sentiment or deep feeling. So if art is about feeling, 
then protest art is legitimate. But I don't think one who 
has nothing to protest should do protest art. I have 
nothing to protest. I have less now than I ever did. I am 
not angry about anything. I promised everyone that I would 
resolve my anger, and I did, and therefore I have no need 
to do protest art. 

I think protest art falls just short of the creative 
process, just slightly short. It's identical with 
political art, as expressed by Cuba and other countries at 
large-- just a little bit short of the creative process. 
I'm interested in the application of the creative 


process. Not the thing itself, the application of it. And 
the application of the creative process does not include 
protest or hostility. There's nothing in the pure creative 
process that's hostile. It has no extremes. It's neither 
hot or cold. It's not either angry or pleased. It just 
is. That's what the creative process is about. So when 
you do protest art and call it creative, in a sense it _is^ 
creative, because you think of something that strikes 
somebody as being the truth, and that's supposed to be 
creativity. But there's creativity and there's 
creativity. There's lord and god and master. They all 
have their separate places, but one is higher than the 
other one, and one's lower than the other two. So in pure 
creativity-- Which is what I'm interested in, it was 
applicable to me. It resolved my basic problem. Then it 
did not include protest. Protest falls just slightly off 
the creative process, so to me it's undesirable. I only do 
it to get rid of my prejudice. That's the only reason I do 
it. If you make a life's work out of that, you're the one 
who suffers, not your public. I've been wanting to say 
that a long time. [laughter] I finally got it out. 

I would get a lot of opposition when the average black 
person says, "Look around and see how often you're 
discriminated [against] . Can you go to this golf club over 
here, or can you go to the White House and do this and 


that? Just look around you, boy, and you'll find reason to 
do protest art or protest in some overt manner." I have to 
agree with them, but I don't have to do it if I don't feel 
it. If I've transcended it, then I think I need some 
applause for that, but I don't expect it from a hostile 
public that gets its kicks out of seeing other people 
hurt. I might take that back. I'd take some of it back, 
but not all of it. 

If the public encourages protest art because it makes 
somebody feel bad and guilty, I think there should be other 
means by which to solve that problem and not use art to do 
it with. And keep it clean, uncontaminated, as is, for our 
posterity, for our children that are coming along. They 
need to resort to something that's uncontaminated. There's 
nothing left but art. It's the cleanest discipline we've 
got or ever had. You'll notice the profound philosophers 
of our times and any times refuse to analyze art. Even the 
Freudians don't do it. 

MASON: Well, Freud tried to do it. I mean, he wrote his 
essay on da Vinci and-- 

PURIFOY: Tell me about that. I'm not aware of that. 
MASON: I haven't read it. 

PURIFOY: I'm not aware of it. I'm not aware of it. 
MASON: It kind of spawned a whole movement in art history 
to try to psychoanalyze the artist through particular 


symbols in his work. And it usually-- 

PURIFOY: Not the artist's art. The artist and art are 


MASON: Right, exactly. [laughter] That's where they get 

into trouble. 

PURIFOY: I don't know anybody who'd choose to analyze art 

but me. I've spent $10 million of the state's money trying 

to do it, and it was premature. I'd rather say it can't be 

done, because it has to be analyzed to be utilized. 

MASON: Well, what criteria would you use to analyze art, 


PURIFOY: Art itself. The art process consisting of the 

discipline, and the discipline of art is nothing more than 

what makes art. It has its own rules. You make art this 

way. You deal with vertical or horizontal lines, you deal 

with baselines. Then you're dealing with this or that. 

You're dealing with ground lines, you're dealing with 

organic shapes, or what are you dealing with? You use that 

to analyze art and to understand to what extent it ' s 

applicable to human beings or to what extent human beings 

are governed by these processes, or affected, for that 

matter. You've heard people say, you know, "I don't know 

what it is, but I know what I like." That's for lack of 

knowledge of the art process. This applicability is my 

concern, but it has to be structured first before it's 


applicable. We spent most of our time trying to see to 
what extent it was applicable to learning and teaching. 
MASON: This is when you were teaching at Cowell College 
and Immaculate Heart College and the other places? 
PURIFOY: Well, I was trying to implement it, but it was at 
the California Arts Council that I had money to research. 
MASON: What happened then in your hiatus, when you stopped 
making art? 

PURIFOY: Well, I was trying to use my degree in social 
service administration--to use all of my education--to see 
if art would be applicable to mental health. To what 
extent it was we still don't know. 

I convinced my agency how if they were going to use 
therapy on black people, they should make it short-term, 
because black people cannot utilize long-term anything. I 
mean poor people, not black people. 

MASON: Did you try to work with a particular program that 
was already in place there? 
PURIFOY: No, I created it. 
MASON: You created it, okay. 

PURIFOY: We created art and drama, art and visual arts. 
MASON: So during the same period you went to Cornell 
[University], then, to work as an artist in residence, in 
PURIFOY: No, that's a misprint. 


MASON: Okay, when did you go to Cornell? 

PURIFOY: I never have been. 

MASON: Oh, I'm sorry. That's in your resume there. Okay, 

so when you were at the Central City Community Mental Health 

Facility, were you working with the same kinds of people you 

were working with at the other mental health institution? 

PURIFOY: In Cleveland? 

MASON: Yeah. 

PURIFOY: No. No, they weren't the same kind of mental 

health-- Mental deficiency is one thing when acquired, but 

another thing when you're born with it. We were dealing 

with hydrocephalics and-- 

MASON: I'm sorry. What kind of people? 

PURIFOY: Mental deficiencies in young children. But 

that's different from mental deficiency that's acquired 

through trauma. 

MASON: You said you're not sure what came out of it 


PURIFOY: I'm not what? 

MASON: You're not sure what came out of it. You're not 

sure whether any of your programs were successful there, is 

that what you were saying? In other words, when you left, 

you felt like you left in the middle of something, or did 

you feel like you had done what you set out to do when you 

had started? 


PURIFOY: No. There weren't enough knowledgeable people 
there to implement the program. It turned out to be just a 
social service program that dealt with social problems, not 
mental problems. We had drawing, dance, drama, and 
whatnot. A program to pass the time. Nobody got well. 
MASON: What about your own self and your own development 
during that time? 

PURIFOY: Well, I got a big charge out of using all of my 
resources directed at one specific task. I was able to 
apply my social service degree, my acquisition of social 
service, as well as my knowledge about psychiatry and 
psychology, as the case was, as well as my knowledge about 
art. It all went together easily in my own mind. 

But to implement a program around it, you need people 
who are also knowledgeable and believe in the idea. That 
wasn't practical. They weren't willing to hire eligible, 
qualified people. So it just became that I was another 
social worker, doing the job of a social worker, that's 
sitting at a big desk in a big office, waiting till 
somebody had a complaint. We got the implication that it 
would work, and by now we know that it works, that art is 
therapeutic, but there's still some kinks in it. We still 
aren't certain about art as therapy. There are too many 
doubters, doubtful Toms, who believe in a direct approach 
not an indirect approach to mental health. 


SEPTEMBER 22, 1990 

PURIFOY: Now, what my input was-- We had weekly meetings 
of staff people to receive input about one patient or 
another. My beef was that you were educated in the white 
institution where they told you that psychotherapy works on 
people. But with all your knowledge about psychotherapy, 
you know that a person with some kind of schizophrenia 
would have to go years and years before he had any signs of 
getting well. But black people have a short attention 
span--that's what I was trying to convey to you--and they 
cannot use long-term therapy. They'll go crazier. You're 
just making them crazier. 

Well, after talking four years of that, I finally got 
through that they needed a short-term program. They 
eliminated the hospital beds, and they started really to 
work seriously about getting people well. That's what my 
input did. That was the level on which I was effective, 
but no other. When I left, I just fell out of touch, 
because I was into something else. I don't know what 
they're doing there now or what they did over the years. I 
really don't know, but I derived a great deal of 
gratification from the experiment. 

MASON: How long was it before you felt that you were able 
to go back and look at it in the way that you ' re explaining 


it now? You said that you derived gratification from it, 
but now you ' re saying that when you look back on it there 
were a lot of problems. 

PURIFOY: Well, I don't harbor problems. I find 
solutions. That's what I'm good at. You see, I was 
looking for a vehicle by which I could find ways to use art 
as a tool to change people. When I couldn't do it at 
Central City, I joined up with the state arts council, and 
there we designed programs that attempted to integrate the 
arts into the learning process. 

MASON: You were a chair of the art in education 
subcommittee? What kind of programs did you try to 
design? Who were some of the people that you worked with 
there? Just how did it work? How did the commission work 
when you were there? 

PURIFOY: Well, I remember sitting up nights when I first 
got on the program in 1975. I think it was '75 or early 
'76. Eloise Smith--Page [Smith] 's wife, whom I have 
referred to, from Cowell College at [University of 
California] Santa Cruz--was made director at the same time 
I became a member of the council. Governor [Edmund G. 
"Jerry"] Brown [Jr.] had reorganized the council to include 
artists only. We had nine members, and we were all 
artists. Among them were Gary Snyder and Peter Coyote, 
with whom I sat to design a battery of programs for the 


arts council. Outstanding among the programs that I 
participated in designing were programs that heretofore had 
not been heard of funded by an arts council. They were 
called "Artists in Communities," "Artists in Schools," and 
"Artists in Social Institutions." We actually placed 
artists in these institutions and schools and communities 
to work directly with the community, with people, with 
students and so forth. There were three separate programs 
that I participated in designing. A fourth program had to 
do with alternatives in education. Attached to it was a 
research component where the object was to explore the 
possibility that art can be integrated into the subject 
matter. It was called "Integration and Correlation of Art 
Through Education." This was the fourth entity, in 
addition to "Artists in Schools, " "Artists in Communities, " 
and "Artists in Social Institutions." 

To go back a ways, to explain more clearly what these 
programs meant, was that we actually put artists in prisons 
and social institutions to work directly with prisoners. 
The results were phenomenal, particularly in prisons. At 
present these programs still exist. They were done twelve, 
fifteen years ago. 

MASON: What were the artists supposed to do in prison? 
PURIFOY: Well, the artists were supposed to attempt to 
integrate or correlate the art into whatever was happening. 


the process. In the case of drama, the problem that the 
institution was facing was what we created the drama around 
and in what we enabled the inmates to participate. 

Now, this was done reasonably successfully in the 
prisons, but in schools there was seldom the application of 
art to education. It was art in education, not art as 
education. The differences are that art in education is 
art paralleled with education. You teach art and then you 
teach education. Art as education is that you teach them 
simultaneously. We made this distinction, but the artists 
were never really able to apply the latter, art as 
education, integration, and correlation, into the ABCs. 

"Artists in Communities" was reasonably successful, 
between "Artists in Schools" and "Artists in Social 
Institutions." The program was fashioned much around what 
we did in Watts. We designed programs that put the problem 
in the streets. Put it where it belongs, where everybody 
can see it. We designed art projects like murals and 
whatnot, subject matter relative to what was going on and 
what needed to be solved as a problem. So it was 
reasonably successful, and they still use murals as a 

These are the three basic programs, funded each year 
to the tune of several million dollars--not each, but in 
toto, all together. The last word I got was these programs 


were worth a million dollars or so. 

This fourth program was a research project. It was an 
extensive project that had artists in schools, just like in 
the "Artists in Schools" program, except there was a real 
serious attempt to integrate art into education, to teach 
them both at the same time. It is alleged that poor 
people- -particularly black people — can learn quicker and 
better if art is integrated into the subject matter. 
Chicanes can. If you've got a problem- -a language problem- - 
it ' s better to teach the language through art than 
directly. So this was actually going on in ten schools. 
MASON: So you think it's-- 

PURIFOY: It's a research project which included ten 

MASON: Okay, but you don't-- You're saying that it's 
something that's racial? It's not just that kids learn 
better through art — it's that black kids learn better or 
Chicano kids learn better? Is that the distinction you're 

PURIFOY: All kids learn better. All kids learn better. 
But some kids don't need-- Their intelligences are such 
that they don't need to have a tool through which to learn, 
other than learning itself, direct. Some kids learn better 
if the learning is indirect. In other words, if a kid 
hates school, doesn't like to come to school, he'll come to 


school if he's going to be in a play. Now, this play is 
teaching about Lincoln, so he's learning history at the 
same time. That's integration. That's where it's 
integrated according to subject matter. This was done in 
the research projects but not generally in the other 
"Artists in School" programs. 

We would place, on an average, thirty to forty artists 
a year--new ones. The old ones could reapply for two 
consecutive years or three consecutive years, and then 
they'd have to drop out and let somebody else come in. So 
the money was well spent and still is being well spent, but 
it's most visible in institutions and prisons. The 
prisoners who utilize this program don't come back. It 
helps to overcome drugs and whatever. 

MASON: What was the big problem with the schools? Why 
didn't the "Artists in Schools" project work? Were the 
schools resisting that kind of integration? Because before 
you were saying that they thought of it more as recreation. 
PURIFOY: Well, generally, if the program was in a school, 
it needed a school-accepted program, because they have to 
pay part of the salary of the artist. They have to pay 
one-third of the cost of the artist's salary. So 
generally, there was one person or principal who was in 
favor of the program, but if the teachers aren't in favor 
of it you don't get any cooperation, the artists don't get 


the cooperation from the teachers. There's prejudice, 
discrimination, segregation, and ostracization. The artist 
is in strange territory. So they have to mend their way, 
use creative process, become one with the unit or with the 
teaching staff. So that's one reason it didn't work. 

The other reasons were that the artists needed to be 
oriented to the idea, because they weren't used to it. 
They oftentimes had never heard of integration and 
correlation of art into education. This should have been 
one of the criteria by which we selected the artists, but 
there were so few artists who even knew about education-- 
Till the program needed to have been revised, if not 
abandoned, in terms of what it was designed for. So it 
never reached its goal. And still, till today, it's not. 

In four years, we've used up all the money for the 
creative research project called "Alternatives in 
Education." We used up all the money in four years, and 
then we spent another year to collect the results and 
analyze the results and in supervising and so forth. 
MASON: Did you publish the report, or was it just an 
internal document? 

PURIFOY: We got reams of data. Publication? No. Because 
there were no results. The problem was that there is no 
testing method designed to determine if art in fact can be 
used as a tool for learning. One or two institutions 


attempted to design a tool that would test for integration, 
but they weren't sure. The variables were of such a nature 
that you create a great deal of uncertainty. So we could 
say that the program was premature. 

Not that the state squandered $10 million. No, I 
couldn't put that in the record, but I can say that since 
we designed that program, a lot of people have become 
convinced that we need something to encourage kids to come 
to school. So they turn from sports to art often, in many 
schools. Sports has served its purpose for a long time, 
but it's short-lived. The results are short-lived. Art 
has a more lasting potential to impress children that you 
in fact see something unique in the world every day, 
something you didn't see before, although you pass it 
daily. That's what art education teaches one to do, to see 
differently and to feel differently about what you see. To 
verbalize what you see in ways in which a listener can 
understand. Lots of kids can't do that even after 
finishing high school. 

MASON: Well, you can see how important that is for kids 
growing up in places like Watts or other communities, 
because there's a place where visualizing things, looking 
at things, is definitely blunted or stunted because-- 
PURIFOY: [inaudible] 
MASON: Yeah, that's true. I mean, you don't look at-- 


PURIFOY: You're taught. 

MASON: Yeah, you don't look at these people, because you 
know this guy's a drug dealer, and you know you don't look 
at that interaction or you don't look at these buildings, 
because they're all burnt out, or you don't look at things 
because they're supposed to be ugly, and you're kind of 
tuned out . 

PURIFOY: Even to a sunset. You know, like appreciation, 
teach art appreciation. But to what extent it's 
transferable is what our problem is. So we can teach a 
child all we want to about recognizing a Picasso or 
recognizing a Rembrandt and so forth, but how do you 
transfer that to enjoying a sunset? Looking at and 
appreciating a sunset is a far cry in a poor community 
and/or black one. The kids just don't learn to appreciate 
the simplest things because they can't see them. They're 
too busy with something else, whatever they're busy with, 

MASON: Okay, one last question and I think we can stop for 
today, unless you have something to add. In this hiatus, 
when you weren't making any art, was that a conscious 
decision that you made or was it something that just 
happened because you felt like you were expressing yourself 
in a different role? 
PURIFOY: That's a good question, because it gives me the 


opportunity to explain the reason why I was looking for 
another vehicle to see to what extent one single person can 
effect change in the large world that we live in. I 
thought I ' d found another vehicle other than art . I 
thought I'd found the California Arts Council as a vehicle 
through which I could be effective, conununicate my ideas. 
It didn't work through art. At least it was premature 
through art. But I thought a more direct approach would be 
through a state arts council where they had money to design 
and implement programs. So I thought I had found my life's 
work. It was easy for me to give up art and never 
anticipate going back to that, because I could spend the 
rest of my life trying to find a means by which one can 
synthesize the left brain with the right brain and come up 
with some kind of profound concept about how people learn 
what they need to know to exist in the world. 

But after eleven years and $10 million, this too I 
used up without fully realizing my objective to use art as 
a tool for learning, as a tool for change, as the case is, 
when you're not in school. I know how it helped me, so I 
figured I could pass this on. The council had the money to 
do it with, and I had the spiel to convince them that they 
ought to be doing it, they ought to allocate the money to 
do it with, which they did. 

We were satisfied that the idea is an excellent one. 


Somebody is going to do it one of these days, but while we 
were doing it, it was premature. Other people over the 
country were also experimenting with it, and some people in 
other countries were experimenting with the idea. But none 
were necessarily successful as such, profoundly successful, 
that is. It's such a wonderful idea that we are certain it 
will come to pass one day. The Rockefeller Foundation 
spent millions of dollars on the art in education 
concept. The foundation is spending moneys to determine to 
what extent art can be utilized for learning, but not as a 
tool necessarily. They have a program that's designed 
around art in education, parallel with, not taught at the 
same time, simultaneously. I think simultaneous teaching 
of art and education is a lot more effective than the 
parallel teaching of art and education, which I hope the 
[J. Paul] Getty [Trust] people will learn about at some 

That's why I came back to art. I had nowhere else to 
go after education. I am not particularly sure-- I mean, 
I'm not particularly-- Well, I can admit defeat on a level 
where I'm not struggling with the idea anymore. I'm not 
looking for a vehicle anymore. I'm closer to doing art for 
its own sake now than I ever was, although I don't believe 
in it as such, just because of circumstances. The people 
don't dig what I'm doing out here. You know, they don't 


like junk art. [laughter] So that makes me doing it for 
its own sake, because I can't look forward to selling it 
anywhere. But I'm at a place now where that-- I'm not 
serious at all. I'm not overly concerned about it. 
MASON: Okay. Well, we can maybe talk more about that 
tomorrow . 


SEPTEMBER 23, 1990 

MASON: Today is Sunday, September 23, and I'm talking with 
Noah Purifoy. We just wanted to clean up a few loose ends 
before we start to talk about your move out to the 
desert. We want to talk a little more about the different 
organizations in Watts that sprang up in the sixties and 
how they were related to each other. And you want to talk 
more about Judson Powell. 

PURIFOY: Yes. I wouldn't want this interview to end 
without emphasizing what an important role Judson Powell 
played in the projects we designed. I would also like to 
mention particularly Sue Welch, Lucille Krasne, and Debbie 
Brewer, who were participants in the project at Watts and 
the Watts Towers [Arts Center] . But particularly Judson, 
who went on to assist me in the finding and the management 
of "[66] Signs of Neon." 

As I stated yesterday, I believe, around 1968 or '69, 
the "Signs of Neon" exhibition actually no longer existed 
in the form in which we had been displaying it all those 
years prior. As a result of that, I had taken another job 
with the Central City Community [Mental] Health [Facility], 
and Judson Powell had gone on to try to create a community 
center in Compton called the [Communicative] Arts Academy, 
I believe. I didn't participate in any way in assisting 


Judson to design the project. I understood that he had 
inherited from some politician in Watts or someplace 
$40,000 to design a community program. So he proceeded to 
do that. In the meantime, I started working for the 
California Arts Council, and Judson applied ultimately for 
funds to run his project. But because of the complicated 
system which is common with most bureaucratic agencies 
connected with the state government, we were unable to fund 
Judson 's project. I was very unhappy about that. 
MASON: I was just wondering if you could explain a little 
more why he couldn't comply with the requirements for the 

PURIFOY: The most I could do in terms of assisting Judson 
to write a proper proposal was to advise him about the 
guidelines and the various components of a proposal, which 
were clear in our guidelines, stating precisely the kind of 
information one must provide in order to get a grant. 
Oftentimes people did not comply with this because they 
thought they had a better method of writing proposals, 
which wasn't the case. Because of this and other reasons, 
primarily reasons that had to do with our system of 
selecting proposals-- We had a committee to select 
proposals and reject proposals. The ones who complied with 
the guidelines more exactly were the ones that were 
granted, and the others were not granted from year to year. 


Now, because of this system we weren't able to fund 
some worthy people, particularly blacks and Chicanes who 
had vital programs existing in the community, simply 
because they didn't have the sophistication necessary to 
write a proper proposal to get funds. This concerned me 
all the years I was on the council. As a result of that, a 
couple of years before I left--which was 1987 probably, 
'86, '87, into 1988--the council was trying to devise some 
means by which they could reduce the guidelines, or rather 
subdue the guidelines, to a point where black people and 
Chicanes who had vital programs could qualify. We tried 
for years to fund American Indian projects without any 
success. We even implored an American Indian on the staff 
to advise us, but we weren't able to get to those people. 
It ' s very unfortunate that the very people who need the 
assistance most have not been funded by the state arts 
council up to the time in which I left, which was 1987 or 

Now, regarding projects in Watts-- Aside from Judson's 
project, which happened late in the seventies rather than 
the sixties, there was-- Westminster [Neighborhood 
Association] I believe is the name of the community agency 
which resembled Karamu House in Cleveland more than any 
other organization because it was socially welfare 
oriented, as well as an accompaniment of some art projects. 


MASON: I'm sorry. What do you want to say about that? 
PURIFOY: Socially oriented, meaning that they were 
concerned about the social and physical welfare of the 
people--and the financial welfare of the people--as well as 
the aesthetic welfare. 

MASON: But weren't all the projects concerned in some way 
with that aspect of the community? 

PURIFOY: No, no. The project that we had in Watts, the 
Watts Towers, was not specifically concerned about the 
welfare of the person in general. Our concern was the 
teaching of art and aesthetics, primarily. However, at 
heart we had strong feelings for the people, and we had 
projects that linked themselves to the well-being of the 
community, such as cleaning up the street, painting the 
houses, and being concerned about the next-door neighbor, 
as the case was. We were down on 107th Street, and we had 
neighbors next door and across the street and so forth. 
So we were all friendly and whatnot and shared what we 
had, but it wasn't a community project in the least. 
MASON: Okay, so how did Westminster go beyond that? 
PURIFOY: Well, Westminster was partially funded, I 
believe, by the state and the city. I'm not sure. But 
anyhow, they were kind of a social agency that had some art 
projects. Their emphasis was primarily on the social and 


physical welfare of the conununity rather than the 

aesthetics. But it resembled a community art project 

similar to the one that we had been familiar with in 

Cleveland, Karamu House. 

^4AS0N: Who was the director of Westminster? 

PURIFOY: I don't recall who was the director at the time, 

but I think it still exists. 

MASON: Now, what about Studio Watts? 

PURIFOY: Well, Studio Watts was short-lived. 

MASON: That was on Grandee Avenue. 

PURIFOY: Yeah, yeah. 

MASON: How far away? 

PURIFOY: They emphasized drama more than the visual arts, 

drama and poetry more than the visual arts, as the case 

was. You asked me earlier about to what extent these 

organizations cooperated with each other. We didn't. I 

want to mention a few. There were more, there were a lot 

more, but I don't recall them at the moment. There was 

little or no coming together except during the festivals 

from 1966 till 1970. Each year all of them would 

participate in the Watts Summer Festival. So that was the 

time that all the organizations came together to make one 

large one-week-long event for the community. 

MASON: I was saying the other day that I was confused 

about the different Watts festivals, how your Watts 


festival that you had over in Will Rogers [State Historic 
Park] auditorium was different from or connected with the 
festival we associate now with the Watts Towers jazz 
festival. Well, the Watts Towers Music and Arts Festival. 
PURIFOY: Maybe it will become more clear if we could 
separate the various events in terms of years. In the 
sixties, that was a time for the annual yearly festivals 
ultimately managed and implemented by Tommy Jacquette. The 
other major component, the art component, was managed by 
me, with the assistance of Judson Powell and others. 

Those were the only events happening in Watts in the 
sixties. There were no other public events, events that 
involved all the people. In the seventies, when John 
Outterbridge became director of the Watts Towers Arts 
Center, he started, I believe--I'm not certain--the drum 
festivals, etc., the music festivals in general. This was 
taking place in the seventies on the premises at the Watts 
Towers . 

Now, the summer festivals were given at the Will 
Rogers Park, so these were two separate facilities that 
were frequented by the people and whose setting would lend 
itself to these events. So again, the Watts Summer 
Festivals in the sixties were at the Will Rogers Park. The 
art exhibitions were at the Will Rogers Park auditorium, 
and nothing else was happening in the sixties of 


consequence. These very small organizations would all come 
together, as we said earlier, and participate in the 
festival, but they themselves were not giving a community 
event, an event that involved the community. No special 
organization in Watts at the time or anywhere nearby was 
giving any special events, except the summer festivals. 
In the seventies, John Outterbridge had begun the 
music festivals, and there are no summer festivals now 
taking place at Will Rogers Park. There were just the 
music festivals in Watts in the seventies and eighties. 
Those are the only public events that I can recall at the 
moment. They were separated by years more than by 
events. They did not come together at any one time because 
they were given at different times. 

MASON: I wanted to ask you how you would account for this 
kind of art boom in the sixties, or the kind of arts 
explosion in the sixties, where there were all these art 
projects going on and your projects using art to educate 
people, whereas it seems in the fifties things were a lot 
quieter and artists were kind of underground and sort of 
suspect. I'm wondering if that's your perception of 
things, and, if so, how would you account for that 

PURIFOY: I understand your question to be asking why all 
these art projects in Watts particularly. Is that what 


you're asking? 

MASON: Well, yeah. A lot of them were in Watts, but just 
the whole California Arts Council. That started in the 
mid-sixties. Then there were things going on in other 
cities, in Chicago and New York. But especially in Los 
Angeles, there seemed to be more of a boom in the sixties, 
whereas the fifties seemed to be a little more quiet. Do 
you think there were just more artists here working or — ? 
PURIFOY: No, I don't think that was the case. I think we 
just came out of the woodwork. We were back there 
somewhere doing something. But I think as a result of the 
nationwide riot having started in Los Angeles, in Watts, 
and then spreading over the country, it made people in Los 
Angeles and the vicinity feel guilty sooner than the people 
in other cities as the result of the events, particularly 
connected with discrimination and segregation. I believe 
that art became a boom because people were feeling guilty 
about their isolation and estrangement from each other in 
general . I sincerely believe the riots brought on those 
kinds of feelings in people in general, particularly in Los 
Angeles, if not the whole state of California. 

As a result of their feelings, I imagine they said to 
themselves, "I want to do something." In fact, I've heard 
this echoed often during the holocaust and those times in 
the sixties. "I would just like to do something," they 


would say. These are mostly white people talking. So they 
came from Beverly Hills and here and thither, all over the 
place, to Watts to do something, bringing their skills with 
them. And the result was the Watts Towers Arts Center, as 
the case was. People came from everywhere to help us do 
what we were doing, whatever it was we were doing. I have 
snapshots of crowds of people on that one little street 
involved in carrying food for the kids that were doing the 
work and all that. I think they just felt guilty that they 
had been so separated from what was going on in the 
community at large. They just thought they'd come and 
participate or see if they could. So as I said, they 
brought their skills with them and corralled us, so to 
speak, and started a lot of projects. I can't think of any 
projects that didn't involve a goodly number of volunteers 
that came from outside to offer their assistance as well as 
dollars, moneys to assist in the development of programs. 

I think this was evident all over the country. When I 
was in Washington, D.C., with the "Signs of Neon," at the 
Gallery of Modern Art, I experienced the identical same 
thing, persons wanting to utilize art to demonstrate their 
feelings for each other, so to speak. As I said before in 
a previous interview, I was asked to develop some projects 
there in Washington, D.C., because they too have had a lot 
of debris as results of the rioting there. So I think that 


comes pretty close to my opinion regarding why the upsurge 
of art. It's just that I think that during hard times we 
turn to the aesthetics as relief, and rightly so. 

It was extremely violent times in Watts, but maybe-- I 
don't know what would have happened if we had not had the 
art projects and whatnot- -to what extent the people getting 
involved might have prevented further crime . I don ' t 
know. I really don't know. I know that Watts was slow in 
building itself back up. Even till this day. Watts is 
still a blighted community, so to speak. 

You didn't ask me what resulted from the efforts, but 
if you were to ask me what were the results of the 
tremendous effort that was poured into that community 
during the riot-- Although I was there, I could not tell 
you, because I don't know what would have happened if we 
had not had it. I know we involved a few people-- 
considering the large population--that otherwise would have 
had nothing to do, the drama class, for instance. Those 
kids were just ripe for some kind of mischief. But as a 
result of Steve Kent working with the kids and all, we not 
only got them to participate in drama, we encouraged them 
to go back to school or stay in school, as the case was. 
So those are just little things that happened as results of 
the riot, I'd say, and as a result of people coming to give 
a hand . 


MASON: You also wanted to mention your trip to Africa, to 
the arts festival, in the late seventies. 

PURIFOY: Yeah. As early as 1975, I would say, I started 
getting communications from what was called FESTAC. I've 
forgotten what FESTAC means. It means something in 
particular [World Black and African Festival of Arts and 
Culture]. I have some literature on it, but it's not 
available right at the moment. 

To anticipate a trip to Africa was a little confusing, 
to say the least. However, during the course of two years, 
I received correspondence from FESTAC, located in 
Washington [D.C.] and New York, I think. I complied with 
every request, meaning that you have to submit certain 
slides of your work and you have to have certain health 
certificates and you have to submit birth certificates. 
You have to submit a whole bunch of things when they take a 
responsibility for you going to a foreign country. I 
complied with every request, always with a degree of 
trepidation. What I mean by that is I had seen one too 
many Tarzan pictures with black people with large disk lips 
and spears and shields and whatnot. Savages, so to 
speak. I didn't want to go to Africa to see that. I was 
hoping I wouldn't see that if I went to Africa, and yet a 
free trip to Africa was something you just couldn't afford 
to turn down. 


So I just sat down and made every effort to qualify, 
and finally the day came when they asked us to meet up in 
San Francisco and board a plane from there to New York and 
to Spain and then to Africa. I had already shipped my 
stuff ahead of me--that is, my art work that I was going to 
display. And I had a companion [Ann Noriega] , also, who 
had become eligible for the trip. We boarded a plane in 
San Francisco. I don't recall quite how we got from Los 
Angeles to San Francisco, but anyhow we boarded a plane and 
headed for New York. 

MASON: Do you remember which pieces you sent over there? 
PURIFOY: No. No, I don't remember. I don't think they 
asked for more than two. I sent two pieces, I think. But 
the pieces I liked, you know. In 1977 I wasn't doing art 
then, so I didn't have anything new that I'd done that year 
or the year before, but I still had some pieces around 
decent enough to send to Africa. 

We were not the first artists to arrive in Africa. 
There were several other planeloads of people. I think the 
plane that we were aboard could carry up to a hundred 
people, I'm not sure. But the total number of people at 
the festival in Africa was several hundred, coming on two 
ships at two different times from all over the world. They 
were supposed to be all black people, but they weren't all 
black people. 


When I arrived in Africa, I was amazed to find that 
Nigeria looked just like Los Angeles I They carted us to a 
compound already designed for us to live in, and they were 
apartment houses made of concrete, one-room structures with 
a bath and all. Some of them were incomplete, but 
nevertheless they were fairly comfortable. Except for the 
heat. I doubt seriously if I got more than two or three 
hours of sleep per night, because there was no air- 
conditioning in the apartments. Because there were so many 
people there from all over the world, it was a total 
involvement. The people who were supposed to take charge 
were not always present, so there were many times when I 
had to make plans on my own to get to see what I wanted to 
see. I was mostly interested in their art and education, 
so I visited the university and the museums. Those were 
places I went on my own. But FESTAC had a big arena where 
everybody met every day. That's where the exhibits were, 
and that's where the people came to discuss different ideas 
and things like that. It was a great experience. 
MASON: You said you went to museums and then there were 
these discussions. I'm just wondering if there was any 
particular thing that stands out in your mind when you went 
to the museum. I guess in Lagos [Nigeria] , you know, was 
there a particular piece of artwork or anything like that 
that stood out in your mind or in these discussions that 


took place among all of these artists? Was there a 
particular issue or a certain discussion that maybe kept 
coming up that everybody was interested in or that struck 

PURIFOY: Unfortunately, I don't have my notes with me or 
some literature I brought back from Africa. I brought a 
whole bunch of film back, a lot of data on the events that 
occurred. But the answer to your question is yes, there's 
one thing that stuck out in my mind most of all, and it 
didn't have anything to do with art. It had to do with 

FESTAC was highly politically oriented. In fact, the 
commander, the potentate, the high chief, you know, would 
come on the premises of this big arena and lecture to us, 
because we were asked to come at a certain time of day two 
or three times, we were asked to all come together. The 
first night we were there we came together to sit in this 
big auditorium. Although I didn't fully understand the 
emphasis that was placed on the politics, it was purely 
political. FESTAC was designed for that idea. It's to 
isolate, separate black people from white people, and 
through this separation demonstrate that black people 
constitute a greater population in the world than white 
people and that they- -black people- -can become leaders of 
the world. That was the overtone of FESTAC. That was what 


I interpreted. It was a political event. 

MASON: So it was something to foster black nationalism or 

maybe black internationalism or something. 

PURIFOY: Yeah, that's the way it felt to me. But I admit 

that I didn't thoroughly understand it, because I wasn't 

interested in politics, neither then or now. That's an 

interesting question, though. I never said it to anybody 

because it was of little concern to me, but those were the 

overtones . 

MASON: But even in spite of that, I mean, was everything--? 

You said you got to do some things on your own, so 

everything wasn't orchestrated. 

PURIFOY: Was not orchestrated? 

MASON: Yeah, because you said you got to do some things 

just through errors. You got to do some things. 

PURIFOY: Well, I didn't get to go to some major events 

that occurred, like some parties that were given at certain 

people's houses that were recognized in the community and 

all that. But I did go and visit some community people and 

saw the condition in which they were living, in little huts 

and whatnot, just like in the movies. You know, that's the 

kind of condition in which some of them were living out in 

the rural communities. 

I marveled at how healthy the community looked, but 
when I started visiting the homes of some of the people I 


learned that they hide their cripples. They don't permit 
them to come out in public, and that's why everybody looked 
so healthy. I would come out there- - 
MASON: You mean it's just for the festival. 
PURIFOY: No. They hide them. They hide them all the 
time. They're ashamed of the cripples. So when I went to 
these villages, there they were, hobbling about. It's just 
like anywhere else you go. In appearance the communities 
look healthy and vital, but they had their health problems 
just like everyone else. 

MASON: So your interpretation was that Nigeria was trying 
to promote itself as the leader of black people all over 
the world. 

PURIFOY: I got that feeling. I really got that feeling, 
because they had just struck oil and there was evidence of 
money all over the place. They had started to build a 
hospital and for some reason stopped. All the exotic and 
costly equipment was lying out exposed to the weather. I 
was unhappy about seeing that. Acres of equipment. Beds, 
you know, exotic beds that do funny things, fold up in the 
middle and all that. That bothered me a great deal, 
because it just indicated the absence of management. I 
didn't see a single white person in management in all of 
Nigeria. Not a single one. If I saw one, he was some type 
of mechanic or something, dealing with some complicated 


instruments that otherwise they actually didn't have the 

MASON: So was that good or bad that there were no white 
people in management positions? 

PURIFOY: I can't comment whether it was good or bad, 
because I didn't try to determine whether it was good and 
bad. My impression was, "Good, they got rid of them." But 
when I saw the waste, underneath that waste was poor 
management. I said, "If the presence of white people means 
good management, they need to get back a few to get this 
city on the road, because this is absolute waste." 
Millions of dollars worth of equipment just deteriorating 
in the sun. They stopped building the hospital for some 
reason or another. 

Generally, though, my stay in Africa was extremely 
pleasant. The communications with the people there were 
superb. I saw the resemblance of my whole family, 
immediate family unit. Women that looked just like my 
sisters and men that looked just like my brothers. "I know 
where I come from now," I thought. "I come from somewhere 
around Nigeria, because the people look so much like me, 
flat head and all." [laughter] 

I was more than pleased with the general demeanor and 
deportment and behavior, I've been in an auditorium where 
there was a row of kids twenty or thirty deep, and one 


adult has only to turn around and look and they're all as 

quiet as a mouse. Every adult is a parent in Africa, and 

every child belongs to the conununity. So since I must have 

been in my early sixties in 19-- No, in my late fifties in 

1977 — 

MASON: Sixties. 

PURIFOY: No, I was in my sixties. I was looked upon as a 

father person. After dark I was carted to beer joints and 

had beer bought for me all evening. Some person who looked 

upon me as a father person and would hang around me all day 

the next day to see if I would drop a few words of wisdom 

and so forth. I didn't necessarily encourage that, but it 

was interesting to observe it and experience it. 

MASON: Does any of this experience come out in your later 

work? Either an object that you picked up there, maybe, or 

some relationship? 

PURIFOY: No. I brought some ebony back, chips of ebony 

wood, a big block of ebony wood. I carted it all the way 

back to America, six thousand miles. And a club. 

MASON: I'm sorry, a — ? 

PURIFOY: A club. You know, an adz type of hammer, a stick 

that an adz fits in, where they chop wood and fasten 

wood. Those are the only two souvenirs I brought back. 

But I could have brought back a whole population of 
Africans who wanted to live in America. It seems like 


every African wants to come to America. There were some 
youths from Chad--which is not far from Nigeria--and they 
were having a little war there, and they didn't want to go 
home. They wanted to stay in Nigeria or come home with me, 
as the case was. [laughter] 

I didn't develop any lifelong friends of this sort 
visiting Africa, but it certainly turned my life around, 
because ultimately I knew the source of my identity. And 
the Tarzan pictures that I've seen, I will lay them to 
rest, because Africa is as fully civilized as the rest of 
the world. 


SEPTEMBER 23, 1990 

MASON: Did you use the ebony wood and the club in your 


PURIFOY: Uh-huh. 

MASON: Which pieces did you use that in? 

PURIFOY: I can't remember specifically because I used up 

slivers of it very sparingly, but I distributed it 

throughout my works for quite a while. That's when I 

started back to work, which was a couple of years ago. I 

kept it. And I got the big ad on one of my things that I 

showed at the [California Afro- American] Museum on Expo 

[Exposition Boulevard] . 

MASON: Okay. Okay, all right. So you're still on La Brea 

[Avenue], then. When did you move to Arlington [Avenue]? 

No, you just had your studio on Arlington. 

PURIFOY: No, I lived there. The house on La Brea I lived 

in for thirty years. I liked that place because a lot of 

things happened there over the years. I'd go off to Santa 

Cruz and spend two or three months and come back and find 

the place occupied by my friends and all clean and spic and 

span. I finally concluded the place didn't belong to me, 

it belonged to the people who frequented it. A lot of 

delightful experiences happened there, and a lot of artists 

came through simply because that was a meeting place for 


artists over the years. 

MASON: People like John Outterbridge? 

PURIFOY: Yeah. [tape recorder off] I think I would like 

to mention again and include in my discussion my companion, 

Ann Noriega. She was a dress designer. At least that's 

what made her eligible for the FESTAC. We were traveling 

partners and had experienced our visit to Africa together 

more or less. I didn't want to conclude about Africa until 

I mentioned about Ann, because she's been a lifelong 


Now what? 
MASON: We were talking about La Brea, and you said that-- 
PURIFOY: Oh, yes. I came to Los Angeles in about 1950, 
'51. I lived in central Los Angeles for eight or ten 
years, and then I moved to a little space, a little one- 
room apartment on La Brea, in about 19-- Oh, it must have 
been '58 or '59. It was attached to a garage, so there was 
unused space that I ultimately expanded into a three-room 
apartment and a studio in addition. So I had made the 
place very comfortable, from a one-room apartment to a 
three- or four-room apartment. It had a garage attached to 
it, so that was the space I utilized to build these extra 
rooms . 

Since most of the events of one nature or another 
happened to me while I was on La Brea, this house became a 


center for the community artists, for the most part. 
Because here was a place we could discuss our lives in 
connection with art. We could plan for the future here, 
or, as the case was, we could reexperience the past and 
plan for the future. So here was a place where I had my 
most profound spiritual experiences as well as art 
experiences. I would go away for two, three months at a 
time up to [University of California] Santa Cruz to teach 
something or go out of state with "Signs of Neon" and come 
back and find that the place had been occupied by friends 
who cared for it equally as much as I did, or as well as I 
did. After my stint at Santa Cruz, students would come 
from Santa Cruz on weekends and spend the weekend there, 
some of whom I did not know or had not met while in Santa 
Cruz. So the place became a center for people rather than 
for artists as such. A real delightful experience. 

Mrs. Chew, who owned the place, a Chinese woman. 
Oriental woman, whom I made friends with over the years, 
decided to sell the place and go back to China. So I had 
two weeks' notice to move. My friend Dorsey Robinson, a 
longtime friend, lent me his assistance, and he carted me 
all over town looking for a place to move, mostly downtown 
L.A., where we could find a loft or something that was 
suitable for an artist, so to speak. We finally found this 
place on Arlington, which was extremely expensive according 


to how much I'd been paying. I'd been paying under $200 a 
month for this space where I was. And it had a big patio, 
I forgot to mention that, and a garden in back and all 
that. An extremely pleasant place to be, although it was 
on the busiest street in L.A. . Because of the trees that 
surrounded the place, it was totally isolated, and I could 
scarcely hear noise from the street. The sirens and 
whatnot were almost not audible. The freeway was not far 
away, and I could scarcely ever hear the drone of the cars 
there. So it was a retreat or haven. 

When the time came to go, I did not regret leaving 
somehow. I don't know why. Maybe because it wasn't the 
place it used to be. The artists, after spending ten, 
twelve years on the [California Arts] Council, stopped 
coming, and I was more or less isolated there, without much 
going and coming. When the time came to move, I didn't 
regret it much. It's just that I was a little leery about 
paying nearly $1,400 a month for rent. But it was a 
wonderful space upstairs in an old Masonic lodge on 
Arlington in Los Angeles. I had a studio and a gallery, 
which I made, and living quarters all in one space. Across 
the hall was an artist who occupied the whole across-the- 
hall space. At both ends were also studios where artists 
would come frequently. So all in all there were six of us-- 
six artists there--and we began to establish a great 


camaraderie in exchanging ideas. 

MASON: They were all assemblagists? 

PURIFOY: No, no. No, we were all doing different things, 

quite different things. I mentioned Mary Bonnie because 

she was my closest neighbor, right across the hall. She 

was doing exotic things with an oriental motif. You know, 

kind of oriental-like things. 

MASON: Paintings or collages? 

PURIFOY: Paint, paint on wood. I just mentioned her in 

passing because she was closest and we spent more time 

together. We had an open house, and I sold a few things, 

enough to pay the rent, but eventually I knew I would have 

to move. My first alternative was a loft downtown where I 

could get space for half the rent, but even at $600 a month 

it was still expensive for me, having retired and all, 

drawing Social [Security] income. However, business begun 

to pick up and I thought I could make it if I hustled. But 

upon reflection, I am not a hustler. I am not used to 

hustling my work. And so, as a result, I chose to move to 

the desert with my friend Debbie Brewer. 

MASON: Let's talk about the gallery that you had there. 

PURIFOY: The gallery on Arlington at the old Masonic 


MASON: Yeah. Did you have a name for it? 

PURIFOY: Yes. I began to put out brochures, and I had 


some cards printed up. It was called the Gallery at the 
Old Masonic Lodge. I thought that was quite a poetic name 
for it. 

The open house was an exciting evening. There was 
lots of food and all my friends came. Virtually all of my 
friends came, meaning nonartists and all. And open house 
was virtually open house. The Masonic building-- All the 
upstairs floors were utilized for artists, as I have 
aforestated, and everyone had his door open that day. 
There were a lot of goings and comings and a lot of oohs 
and ahs. I was the only one who sold anything that day, of 
course, but it helped toward the rent. But as a result of 
the open house--for which we sent out invitations and all-- 
there were a lot of people coming back from time to time 
after the open house. And my friends came back, too. Many 
bought stuff that they couldn't even afford to buy. 
MASON: How much were you selling things for? 
PURIFOY: Well, the price kind of went up. I had small 
things for as little as $150 — well, really $90 to my 
friends--but other things went up to $5,000, for one 
piece. That is, a triptych set, a piece called Beige, 
Black, and Tan , sold for $3,500, a three-panel unit. So I 
had a good day. Now, considering that I hadn't had 
anything to drink or smoke, after everybody left, I broke 
out a quart of wine and I got myself a pack of cigarettes. 


and I stayed up all night. It was lots of fun. It's 
reexperiencing the art world after having been away for so 

Now that I'm in the desert, it's a whole-- It's quite 
a different life-style. 

MASON: Can we talk about that? We've been deferring it 
all day. [laughter] 
MASON: So finally. 

PURIFOY: Yeah, quite a different life-style. My friends 
were quite sympathetic about my moving, and they bought 
stuff when they couldn't even afford it. I had enough 
money finally to move to the desert, bring all my stuff 
practically, and in addition money to build a studio. So I 
started out to build a studio almost right away. By 
wintertime-- In fact, it was last August that I moved 
here. I think a year ago today we first met, you and I. 
On August 1, I believe, you came. So I moved here a year 
ago August 1 . And three or four months later I built a 
studio. It was all finished, as finished as it was going 
to be, and I had begun to try to start work. 

I wasn't sure I'd like the desert. I made visits out 
here from time to time to see my friend Debbie and to 
assist her with her new house and all . But every time I 
came, except for one time during the spring, when all the 


desert was blooming, I had felt forlorn and sad for some 
reason or other. Because of the vast space and the Joshua 
trees, it just gives the impression of desolation and sheer 
poverty, actually. The earth is poor. It won't bring 
forth green stuff. That's what I miss most of all being 
here, since everything is brown here or beige or purple, as 
the case might be. But having lived here for a while, 
despite the severe weather- -very hot in the summertime and 
very cold in the wintertime--I ' ve come to like it. 

As I said before, I look up less often in antici- 
pation. What that means is that when I was in L.A. as an 
artist, there were a lot of comings and goings, so every 
little noise I'd hear-- As you know, most artists are 
extremely sensitive to noise, because they spend quiet 
times in their head. All the time it's quiet in their 
heads, and the least drop of a pin- type noise can become 
extremely disturbing to the thought process. Here in the 
desert, the rabbits, the birds, the scorpions, the lizards 
all run quiet. You can see them for long distances, but 
you can't hear them. The birds squawk, the quails squeak, 
the buzzards buzz, or whatever they do- -honk- -and it's a 
haven for wildlife, because I live six miles from downtown 
Joshua Tree, the only town this side of Yucca Valley, 
except for Twenty-nine Palms. To go to the store, I go six 
miles, give or take, if not thirteen, to Yucca Valley. But 


I always enjoy the trip, because it's quiet and pleasant 
and you hardly encounter any cars on the road. On some 
roads it's so infrequently used they don't even have 
centerlines or markers. I have learned to live here, and 
it's rather pleasant. 

MASON: Of course, the big question, the obvious question, 
is, as an assemblagist, how do you adapt to the desert? 
How do you find materials to work with? 

PURIFOY: Well, it's quite different here when it comes to 
finding materials. Everything here is recycled. They have 
a swap meet every Saturday and Sunday in Yucca Valley, and 
you'd be amazed at the stuff that is exchanged there, 
because it's stuff that people in Los Angeles throw away. 
They recycle here, resell, because everyone is in a state 
of developing something here. It's a pioneer country, 
where the garbage-- You take it to the garbage dump 
yourself, so there's no garbage day as such where you go 
along the road and pick up stuff people throw away. 
There's no such thing as that. At the garbage dump, you're 
not allowed to rumble through the trash to get to refurbish 
things and whatnot, so found objects are hard to come by 
here unless you buy it. I have bought most of the objects 
that I've used for the work I've done so far. I'm working 
on a piece of-- 

I have two and a half acres here, incidentally, that 


I'm living on, and I have plans to develop the whole two 
and a half acres into a large art piece. I've begun to do 
that already, just kind of shaping it up. But now I have a 
pretty good idea of what two and a half acres are. It's 
big, I tell you, when you're thinking about spreading it 
all with art. I already have a f if teen-by- five- feet piece 
of sculpture complete on one end of the lot. 
MASON: What's the name of that? 

PURIFOY: I haven't given it a name yet. It will probably 
end up being named Tinker Toy , because I got bells that 
tinkle all the time in the wind. I'm not sure. But 
anyhow, it's a Mondrianic-ef feet-type thing that I made, 
separate pieces of sculpture to sit inside of. It's a 
walk-through, kind of an environment thing, like I've 
enjoyed doing, for the most part. Flat things are kind of 
out for me here. However, I do them just to take up the 
time, because I have to work on three or four things at 
once in order to make anything go. 

MASON: Like some of the pieces that you have here in this 
living room are pieces that you just did to take up time, 

PURIFOY: All this stuff I did last year and the year 
before. All the stuff you see hanging here I did either on 
Arlington or at La Brea. The new stuff is all out in the 
studio, and I've only got two pieces out there. One's 


finished. It's a protest piece, incidentally. The Hanging 
Tree it's called. I'll show it to you when we go back out. 
MASON: Okay. Could you describe it? 

PURIFOY: The Hanging Tree ? Well, it's kind of a pun, like 
I said earlier. If it had a second title, it would say, 
"He was merely a boy and guite harmless, and he was also a 
clown. Can't you see that? Did you have to kill him after 
all?" That would be the title if it were not The Hanging 
Tree . So the description of what I just said was that it 
looks like a figure--male f igure--hanging from the tree, 
but he's got on multicolored pants, multicolored jacket, 
and the color all around him is high color. It's a 
delightful piece to look at. If you didn't know that that 
was the title, it would be guite a pleasant hanging. 

That's the piece that's already finished. I'm working 
on another piece that may have a title by the time it's 
finished, but I don't know what it will be. And in 
addition to that-- See, I have to do several things at 
once. In addition to that, I'm working on a big piece of 
sculpture eight feet tall by eight feet long, different 
from anything I've ever done. That's that white piece that 
I'm working on with the curlicues and whatnot. 
MASON: Could you describe that, the material and how it 
was different from the other things. 
PURIFOY: It's a combination of found objects, canvas. 


paint, and wood. I found an old bentwood chair on the 
premises when I first came here, a rattan- type bentwood 
chair. It had been in the sun for years on end. I'd seen 
it here. It occurred to me that that could be a piece of 
sculpture. So I stripped it down and started using pieces, 
and it began to formulate this shape. I can hardly 
describe it because it's different from anything I've ever 
done before. It's purely organic, with shapes moving in 
and out, having all the characteristics of a piece of 
sculpture, and yet it could be a painting as well, because 
it's a combination of canvas, wood, metal, and paint. 

I'm nearly finished with it, or half finished with it, 
or two-thirds finished with it. But in order not to mess 
it up--that is, overwork it--I have to be doing two or 
three other things at the same time, so that when I get it 
to a certain place where I'm delighted with the last thing 
I did, I have to let it set for a day or two and sense 
whether or not if I did this or that next or if it occurred 
to me to do thus and so as the next thing to do-- So 
invariably it will strike me as something to do, but if I 
don't let that something that strikes me to do gel, it will 
be the wrong thing. Therefore, I'd mess it up. So in 
order to safeguard myself from messing up things, which 
every artist is capable of doing, I have a tendency to work 
on several other pieces, minor pieces. Nothing fantastic. 


just a minor idea. Not a major idea. It's no big 
masterpiece, it's just a minor idea. Two or three of 

Now, since I work so fast, even though I have all the 
time in the world out here in the desert, I also do 
gardening in the interim. I plant cactus and desert 
plants. I have built awnings around the place to create 
shade. You have to water the trees and whatnot. So I stay 
busy from morning till night here. And it's a rather 
pleasant place to live forever at. 

MASON: So fundamentally, I guess, how would you say your 
work that you've done here is different from the flat work 
that you have hanging in your living room that you said was 
done on Arlington, in terms of--? Well, you've talked a 
little before about how there's a kind of tension in your 
work between pieces that you want to do for yourself and 
pieces that you want to do for a market . 

PURIFOY: Yeah, I did mention a split that I consciously 
designed, so to speak, or implemented or acted out, as the 
case might be. Previously when I was doing art, I'd have a 
tendency to do something that pleased me with no intention 
of pleasing the public. Then I would do something that I 
know is pleasing to the public, and in that way I am trying 
to be practical in that I know that this piece will sell 
and this one may not. 


MASON: I'm trying to understand how that works for you. 
For example, here, would you say that you made any of these 
pieces to sell, or were they all works that you wanted to 

PURIFOY: There are no examples here of what I'm talking 
about. However, the piece of sculpture outside, the large 
piece that's in the studio that I'm working on now, I can't 
imagine that piece in somebody's house. So that kind of 
piece I would make to show. Now, those little pieces that 
I'm making in order to take up the time while I'm not doing 
anything else, I would be making to sell if I were in a 
community where people would make this distinction. 
MASON: So it has to do with scale, then? 

PURIFOY: No. It has nothing to do with scale so much as 
it has to do with quality. Whether it fits over Mrs. 
Jones ' s mantelpiece or not or headboard or not or it goes 
in her kitchen or not or in her hallway or not. I have a 
sensing (since I'm also a student of interior design) of 
what Mrs. Jones wants. So maybe that's why I was 
successful with selling things my last stint in art, 
because I had a sensing about what goes in the house, what 
goes with the couch, and what goes in the dining room, etc. 
MASON: Does that have to do with color or--? 
PURIFOY: Oftentimes color, yeah, and something that's more 
or less compromising, I'd say, pleasant to look at, with no 


political or social overtones whatsoever. [laughter] The 
average person who buys stuff doesn't want to be reminded 
of the problems of the world in their setting at home. I 
can't much blame them, of course. Life has taught me the 
difference between the kind of art that carries a social 
message and the kind that doesn't. In fact, I'd prefer to 
do pure design. Pure design sells better than protest, for 
sure, but pure design often doesn't outsell the portrait or 
picture that looks like somebody I know. Having been 
working in interiors for a few years, I have a keen sense 
about what goes with a house and what does not . A 
collector wouldn't have to think of this, however. He 
wouldn't have to think about the color of his sofa and 
whatnot, but Mrs. Jones does, who's redoing her house at 
$10,000 to $100,000 a throw. If she's doing her living 
room and she plans to spend $50,000, I don't think she'd go 
for the protest piece to put on her wall. That's the 
point. So as a consequence of my knowledge of people's 
tastes, I developed this split where I do things to sell 
and I do other things to show, if that answers your 

MASON: So take this piece, for example. What's the name 
of this piece with the sun? 

PURIFOY: That has no name. That's untitled. 
MASON: How would this piece be different from something 


that you would make to sell? 

PURIFOY: Well, first, this is a big piece. This piece is 
eight feet by four feet, and the couch is six feet long and 
four feet deep. I mean, three feet deep or twenty-six 
inches deep, etc. So this wouldn't go with the couch--it 
would extend over the end. And Mrs. Jones does not want a 
picture to extend over the end of her couch, because she 
wants to emphasize the couch, not the picture. So that's 
eight feet, and Mrs. Jones wouldn't put an eight-foot sofa 
on one wall. She'd turn the corner with it. Pictures 
don't turn the corner. I'm saying this with tongue in 
cheek. [laughter] And Mrs. Jones may have an eight-foot 
sofa, too, on one wall, without it turning the corner, 
because she can well afford it. But I don't think she'd 
hang this picture over that couch. I think she'd come 
closer to hanging a thinner one that-- 
MASON: Maybe like this one. 

PURIFOY: Well, it could be eight feet long, but it most 
certainly wouldn't be four feet wide. It would be more 
spindly, like twenty-six inches by seventy-two, or eighty- 
four or ninety-six. Size and all makes a difference. 
However, people are more inclined to buy oil paintings on 
canvas than collages or assemblages. You'd have to have a 
unique house to buy an assemblage in the first place. If 
Mrs. Jones is so inclined to put one in her house because 


she wants a conversation piece, she comes to me. I seldom 
use canvas. I use mostly wood, I paint on wood. I'm just 
trying to describe what's most likely to sell in this day 
and time and what is likely not to sell in this day and 
time. As an artist I'm well aware of that, and I paint 
with it in mind. No matter how superficial I may sound, 
that's what I do, because survival comes first and survival 
transcends superficiality any day. 

MASON: All right. Is there anything else you want to add? 
PURIFOY: No. I think we've done well. 



"Aesthetic Eye, The," 63, 

Alabama State Teachers 

College, 9, 10-12 
Altoon, John, 33 
American Cement 

Corporation, 79 
Andrews, Benny, 106 
Angelus Furniture 

Warehouse, 35 
Anthony, Frank, 76 
"Arts and the Poor, " 71-74 
Atlanta University, 17-19, 


Barrel and Plow , 84-85, 118 
Beige, Black, and Tan , 162 
Black Emergency Cultural 

Coalition, 118 
Black Muslims, 68 
Bloom, Katherine, 72 
Blum, Irving, 35-36 
Bonnie, Mary, 161 
Braque, Georges, 76, 105 
Breath of Fresh Air , 79-80 
Brewer, Debbie, 59, 60, 75, 

88, 90-91, 161, 163 
Broadway department store 

(Los Angeles), 36-37, 38 
Brockman Gallery ( Los 

Angeles), 47, 48-54, 113 
Brown, Edmund G. "Jerry," 

Jr., 127 
Burial Ground , 119 

California Afro-American 

Museum (Los Angeles), 20, 

81, 157 
California Arts Council, 

60, 100, 123, 127-36, 

139, 145, 160 
California State 

University, Los Angeles, 

Cannel and Schaffen 

Interior Designs ( Los 

Angeles), 33-34 

Casey, Bernie, 106 
Central City Community 

Mental Health Facility 

(Los Angeles), 97, 124- 

27, 138 
Chouinard, Nelbert, 29, 30 
Chouinard Art Institute 

(Los Angeles), 8, 29-33, 

36, 77 
Committee to Save Simon 

Rodia ' s Towers in Watts, 

38, 58, 60, 68 
Communicative Arts Academy 

(Compton, California), 

Company Theater (Beverly 

Hills, California), 102-3 
"Contemporary Black Artists 

of America, " 116 
Contemporary Crafts ( Los 

Angeles), 104, 113 
Coyote, Peter, 127 
Cuyahoga County Department 

of Social Services, 27 

Davis, Alonzo, 52, 99, 107, 

Davis, Dale, 99 
Doty, Robert M. , 21 
Douglas Aircraft Company, 

Drinkwater, Harry, 41 
Duchamp, Marcel, 78, 84 

Echelman, Eve, 38, 58-59, 

60, 61 
Extreme Object D-E-D , 52 

Father Divine, 25, 110 
Ferus Gallery ( Los 

Angeles), 35, 44 
Freud, Sigmund, 20, 111, 

112, 121 

Gallery at the Old Masonic 
Lodge (Los Angeles), 161- 


Gallery of Modern Art 
(Washington, D.C.), 89, 

Gallery 32 (Los Angeles), 

Getty, J. Paul, Trust, 136 

Hammond, David, 118, 119 
Hanging Tree, The , 167 
Heidegger, Martin, 19, 22 
Hopps, Walter, 89 
Husserl, Edmund, 19, 22 

Immaculate Heart College, 

93, 123 
Improv Theater ( Los 

Angeles), 102-3 
Irwin, Robert, 33 

Jackson, Suzanne, 113, 115, 

James, William, 22 
Jaquette, Tommy, 114, 143 
Joined for the Arts, 74-75, 

Jung, Carl, 21-22, 37, 112 
Junk magazine, 79, 80-81, 


Karamu House (Cleveland), 

99-100, 140, 142 
Kent, Steve, 101-2, 147 
Kienholz, Edward, 44-45, 

46, 47, 48 
King, Martin Luther, Jr., 

Krasne, Lucille, 59, 60, 


Lewis, Samella, 104, 106, 

113, 116 
Los Angeles Unified School 

District Board of 

Education, 100 
Los Angeles County 

Hospital, 28-29 
Los Angeles County Museum 

of Art, 21, 44, 116 

Malcolm X, 118, 119 

Mann, David, 85 

Markham Junior High School 

(Los Angeles), 70, 75, 82 
Max Untitled , 83 
McCone, John A., 68 
Museum of African American 

Art (Los Angeles), 104 

National Endowment for the 

Arts, 64-65, 71 
National Youth 

Administration, 11 
Neufeldt, Max, 75, 84, 97 
Nevelson, Louise, 46 
Niggers Ain't Never Ever 

Gonna Be Nothin'--All 

They Want To Do Is Drink 

->- Fuck , 47-54, 113 
"19 Sixties: A Cultural 

Awakening Re-evaluated, 

1965-1975," 20, 21 
Noriega, Ann, 149, 158 

Outterbridge, John, 59, 99, 
106, 143, 144, 158 

Pajaud, William, 29 
"Panorama of Black Artists, 

A," 116 
Peck, Gregory, 82 
Peterson, Susan, 30, 31, 

Phoenix, 83 

Picasso, Pablo, 76, 105 
Powell, Judson, 58, 60, 61, 

62, 74, 82, 83, 85, 88, 

91, 138-39, 143 
Purifoy, Clarence 

(brother), 5, 7-8 
Purifoy, Esther (sister), 

Purifoy, George (father), 

1-2, 5-6 
Purifoy, Georgia Mims 

(mother), 1-8, 17-18 
Purifoy, Mary (sister), 3 
Purifoy, Ophelia (sister), 

Purifoy, Rose (sister), 3 


Rainey, Ma, 7 
Robinson, Dorsey, 159 
Rockefeller Foundation, 136 
Rodia, Simon, 61 

Saar, Betye, 106 
Sartre, Jean-Paul, 22 
Saturensky, Ruth, 84, 97 
Saulter, Leon, 76 
Secunda, Arthur, 75, 83, 97 
Silverman, Ronald H., 63, 

64-65, 71 
Sink, The , 85-86, 88 
Sir Watts , 80-81 
Six Birds , 20, 21 
"66 Signs of Neon," 43, 68, 

74, 75, 79, 82, 90-91, 

92-93, 96, 101, 103, 104, 

116, 138, 146, 159 
Smith, Bessie, 7 
Smith, Eloise, 94-95, 127 
Smith, John, 36, 56 
Smith, Page, 94-95, 127 
Snyder, Gary, 127-28 
Student Nonviolent 

Coordinating Committee, 

Studio Watts, 142 
Sudden Encounter , 84 

Tann, Curtis, 100, 115 
Tar and Feathers , 117, 119 
Testie, Lillian, 91 
Thompson, Beatrice, 112 
Tinker Toy , 166 

United States Navy, 13-15, 

United States Office of 

Information, 46, 81 
University of California, 

Berkeley, 90 
University of California, 

Davis, 93 
University of California, 

Los Angeles, 93, 94, 101 
University of California, 

Santa Cruz, 93-96, 109, 

112, 123, 127, 159 

Voulkos, Peter, 30-31 

Wagner, Gordon, 75, 76, 97 
Washington, Booker T. , 9 
Watts, 115, 139, 145, 147 
Watts riots, 64-68, 92, 96, 

115, 145 
Watts Summer Festival, 74, 

98-101, 114-16, 142 
Watts Towers, 58, 60 
Watts Towers Arts Center, 

59-64, 65-66, 69-71, 87, 

95, 102, 113, 138, 141, 

Watts Towers Committee, 38, 

58, 60, 68 
Watts Towers Music and Arts 

Festival, 143 
Weddolf, Joyce, 103 
Welch, Sue, 58, 61, 62, 74, 

Westminster Neighborhood 

Association, 140, 141, 

Whitney Museum of American 

Art, 21, 116 
Will Rogers State Historic 

Park (Los Angeles), 115, 

143, 144 
Wilson, William, 52-53 
Woodruff, Hale, 17 
Works Progress 

Administration, 5-6 
World Black and African 

Festival of Arts and 

Culture (FESTAC), 148-56,